I know, I know—it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve written a post, and I get yelled at all the time for it. The truth is that I’ve been so immersed (infected might be a more accurate term) in writing my next project that I’ve barely come up for air, let alone had time to write the kind of blog post I know my readers deserve. So please bear with me as I stumble in and out of real life as I finish this book, and cross your fingers that I survive the process. I’m not joking–I may not make it though this one.
And speaking of the writing process, let me tell you—this life I’ve chosen for myself, this writer’s life—it ain’t for pussies. The incredible amount of discipline and dedication it takes to see a manuscript through to the end is indescribable, unnamable. That focus and devotion takes such an awful lot out of me, and when I’m working as fiercely on a project as I have been these last few months, I find that I can neither think nor talk about virtually anything else.
Mercifully, I’ve finally settled into a routine and process that works well, and allows me to milk my creativity for all it’s worth while (usually) maintaining my sanity. That process involves a lot of trickery: disabling my Internet connection, turning the lights down low, lighting candles, surrounding myself with inspiration and mood-setting, and most importantly selecting the right kind of music. Typically, I create one giant playlist specific to each writing project, and only listen to that set of songs while writing. That way, when I have to stop and pick up the writing again later, I put that same music back on and find that I am able to pick up where I left off much easier.
I grew up in a house where we nearly always had music playing, and my parents’ beloved folk music became a kind of soundtrack for our lives. And in my own home now, I enjoy doing the same thing with my creative work—creating a soundtrack to the major projects I work on. While looking through some old albums to create the right mood for my current project, a post-apocalyptic novel, I rediscovered some of the music I loved as a teenager. Luckily, I had pretty decent taste back then, and a lot of what I loved back then still holds up alright.
Most everyone has a song or album that can take us back to a time in our youth when we listened to it over and over again, relentlessly and obsessively. Some of those songs and records got me through difficult times, and mean something so different now that I can’t listen to them again. Forever holding too much to be revisited. Still, other songs take me back to wonderful times, good memories of driving through the Arizona desert in my first car, seeing concerts with my best friends or lying on my bedroom floor just to the ceiling fan spin slowly as I thought about life and my place in it. I happened upon exactly that experience over the weekend, when I put an old cd into my car, and listened to one of my favorite Dar Williams’ songs, February. I could feel the chill of February in my bones, the sullen loneliness of the deep winter setting down upon me in a bittersweet, delicate way. And as I played the song again later that night in my office, the deeply nostalgic sensation of hearing the melancholic notes and lyrics fed into my writing, infusing it with a heavy, complex undertone I wasn’t even aware had been hiding just beneath the surface. I had forgotten what it feels like to think of the winter as ceaseless, as destructive; I’d forgotten what we lose to the month of February when a freeze sets in and the snow blows opaque and the walls begin to crowd us. I’d forgotten some of those things and, hearing the song once more–as an adult, I began to remember.
It’s not always to write about feeling scared when I am perfectly safe in my office, or to write about feeling cold and starving when I’m wrapped in a blanket with a bowl of soup on my desk, or write of the wintertime when the sun is shining. But that is the task of the writer—to suspend our belief in reality and accept the terms of our imaginary worlds. To write of hunger when we are full. To understand love when we don’t feel it. To crawl inside feelings and experiences we perhaps have not yet lived enough to write about them. Lighting candles and listening to carefully selected music might be mere gimmicks, but they work. I have no problem playing these tricks on my own mind as long as the writing I produce is benefited in some way.
I am lucky to find such easy inspiration in the world around me, and to be able to filter those things into my writing process to create something new and whole and meaningful. Of course, it takes so much more to create a whole book, but these small matters are a start, and I’ll gladly take all the help I can get.