Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Filling the Creative Well

Zebra by George Stubbs, 1763

Ever since our move to New Haven, my creativity levels (and if we’re being honest, my emotions), have fluctuated more than normal. One day, I’m happily whipping out a new chapter for Desertera #2 or proudly revising The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) for the umpteenth (but next-to-last!) time. The next day, I’m moping around the apartment with barely the energy to lift my Kindle but plenty of energy to suck Daniel into yet another round of Netflix.

One of my creative “mentors” (unbeknownst to her, which sounds much creepier than it actually is), Joanna Penn, talks about the duality of art. Above her workstation, she has a sign that says “Have you made art today?” But she also notes that it is just as important to consume art as it is to make it. After all, if we let our creative well run dry and never take in new inspiration, how can we continue to make fresh and invigorating art, whatever our chosen medium?

the unborn
The Unborn by Anselm Kiefer, 2001

Most writers I know (and several of my non-writer friends) turn to books when they are feeling bored or uninspired. Sometimes this works for me, too. However, my reading has revolved around my book review queue lately, and while I have been enjoying those novels, it’s made reading feel more like “work” than play (one of the many reasons I’m not taking new requests).

But, even when reading is purely for my own enjoyment, it’s not always the best medium for me to gain inspiration. For whatever reason, I feel inspired to write after seeing visual art (paintings, sculptures, etc.) or listening to music. Partly, I think this is because I cannot paint or make music, much to my continual despair, and partly, I think my brain or subconscious or muse (not that I think I have one) likes to “translate” these forms of art into a new one — writing.

divination book
Divination Book (Pustaha), Batak, Sumatra, mid 18th-19th century

Yesterday, Daniel and I finally decided to get out of the house (I keep saying “house” when I should say “apartment,” and the inaccuracy is driving me nuts!) and enjoy some of New Haven’s free entertainment. First, we went to the Yale University Art Gallery, where we saw everything from ancient Greek pottery to Islamic tapestries to African statuettes to colonial American furniture to just about everything else you can imagine.

I found myself moved by several of these pieces, which you can see throughout this post. In the British art section, I found my spirit animal. In the Indo-Pacific section, I found several pieces that filled aesthetic gaps in my to-be-finished novel, Desert Child. And in the Modern Art section, I found my favorite piece of all, The Unborn by Anselm Kiefer — inspired by the Jewish myth of Lilith and meant to evoke all the lost souls resulting from The Holocaust.

shakespeare in the parkAfter the art gallery, Daniel and I drove (a rather unheard of and dangerous task on the East Coast) to Edgerton Park to see a Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night. I have read several of Shakespeare’s plays (and poems) as well as watched productions on television, but I had never actually seen a live performance of one of his plays. I’m not a theatrical critic by any means, but I will say it was a lovely production, and I really enjoyed myself.

There is just something so beautiful about humanity, the way we can manipulate materials and language and create entirely new meaning out of familiar objects. Sometimes, we just get so caught up in our lives, or in trying to create art ourselves, that we forget to stop and appreciate what others have done. Even if we don’t understand it (the art itself or its effect on us), it’s worth taking the time to just exist among what others define as beauty, if only for an hour or two, and let it sink in to our subconscious. What comes out the other side will likely be entirely different, but it will be equally beautiful and equally as worthy in the world.

So do I think my creative well has been refilled? I hope so. But the proof is in the pudding. I’m off to go make my art for the day.

What inspires you when you’re feeling “uncreative” or down? Which forms of art do you make? Which art forms do you prefer to consume?

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

My Life’s Soundtrack (Side A)

I’ve mentioned before that I do not listen to music while I write fiction (although Amanda gave some great tips on that!). However, I hope that has not given you all the impression that I don’t like music. In fact, I love music. The reason I cannot write to it is because it distracts me; I enjoy listening to it too much to focus on much else at the same time.

Music is a wondrous art form. It is, arguably, the art form that brings up the most emotions and memories instantly upon contact. While I love books, reading a certain passage never quite strikes me the same way as hearing that perfect lyric or that gorgeous guitar chord. So today, I want to share with you ten songs I love. However, these are not just songs I enjoy, these are songs that carry specific, personal meaning for me. If my life were to have a soundtrack, these would make up Side A.

1. Helena by My Chemical Romance

Confession time: My Chemical Romance is my band. I can’t describe it to outsiders. Gerard Way’s lyrics speak to me in a way that no other verbal art ever has — books included. I feel the music in my blood. The first song I heard by them was “Helena,” which is also one of their most well-known songs. I was thirteen, and I learned the lyrics from a friend while we swam in the Lake of the Ozarks before I even heard the band perform it. I listened to it on repeat for the three hour drive home. It was love at first listen.

2. Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas

This may be my favorite song of all time. I’ve always loved it, but it first grew meaning for me as the season finale theme to the TV show Supernatural. As a teenager, I grew a bit away from my dad, as girls are wont to do. But Supernatural brought us back together and bonded us stronger than ever (which is a feat, because I’ve always been a daddy’s girl). Now, we have matching Supernatural tattoos, and we danced to this song at my wedding.

3. American Girl by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Every summer, my parents and I drive down to Stockton Lake. It’s our favorite relaxation spot. When the Kansas City radio stations begin to crackle out, we put in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’s Greatest Hits. This is the first track and my favorite. It always takes me back to those lake trips and that feeling of being young and not quite sure how to grasp life yet (which I still experience as a young woman).

4. Second Chance by Shinedown

When I was seventeen, we had to put down my first horse. I had lost pets (which I consider siblings) before, but I had never witnessed the process of putting an animal down. After it was over, I had to move my car to a different spot in our driveway. This song had just started. The lyrics are strangely fitting, and now it always makes me think of that day. Luckily, it has also extended to remind me of all the happy memories I shared with my horse.

5. Kids by MGMT

Once upon a time in middle school, the “cool” thing to do was wander around this one subdivision late at night with friends. One night, we all went back to someone’s house and had a “rave” in the basement. This song brings me back to wandering the streets and feeling absolutely free with my friends. For this freedom connection, it is also the song I listen to when I need help getting in the right mindset to write.

6. Kerosene by Miranda Lambert

I’ve been told that everyone has a break up song. This was mine in high school. It’s about a woman who is cheated on and burns the guy’s house down. If my MCR love and the plot of The Cogsmith’s Daughter didn’t clue you in, I love revenge tales.

7. Bastards at the Gate by The Architects

I can already tell you, when I move to Connecticut, this will be my homesick music. The Architects are a local band; I would argue the best in Kansas City. This song swells my KC pride and reminds me of the many KC and Lawrence adventures I’ve had with my best friend, Sam. I will always think of driving around with the windows down with her when I hear this band.

8. Homecoming Queen by Hinder

Hinder was my first “real” concert. I attended with my best friend, Jess. Hinder always makes me think of her. It was also my paper writing music in university. I don’t know what it is, but I can listen to music while writing academic papers, but only if it is Hinder. Listening to this song still makes my eyes strain and brings hints of late night Mountain Dews to my tongue.

9. Take Me for a Ride by Bad City

Incidentally, Bad City was the supporting band for my first concert. Jess and I are the only people I know who have heard of this now-gone gem, so again, it reminds me of her. However, more strikingly, it reminds me of driving home from university. First semester freshman year, I hated my roommate and always went home on the weekends. I drove home eating a green apple and listening to this album. This is the song that came on as I reached the city limits of my university’s town.

10. Gone, Gone, Gone by Phillip Phillips

Daniel and I have many songs — a whole album’s worth. But, if we are being honest, this is probably our song. In late November 2013, we were stuck on a bridge due to an accident. It was the holiday season where the PS4 and XBOX One were both coming out. The radio DJ was on an idealistic rant about how maybe his wife would buy him one (or both!) for Christmas. Whenever he did, he played the “I would do it for yoooou!” lyric. Daniel and I thought this was hilarious, and it has been our “true” song ever since.

What are your favorite songs and/or artists? What songs will always carry special meaning for you? Music lovers unite in the comments!

Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles

Guest Post: Writing with a Soundtrack by Amanda Richter

Today, I’m excited to bring you a guest post about how music can help your writing by the fabulous Amanda J. Richter. Personally, I fall into the write in absolute (sometimes creepy) silence category, so I am pumped to soak up some of Amanda’s wisdom and see if any of her tips work for me. Enjoy and leave your comments/questions for her below!

When I was in high school my mom always scolded me for listening to music while I studied. She was convinced that if I wasn’t sitting in absolute silence I could not be concentrating.  As I moved from high school to university I found I could use music strategically. When studying for exams I picked songs that were catchy and easy to remember and listened to them on a loop. Each class had its own song. In the exam I hummed as I wrote.  Like magic, it helped me remember what I had studied.

It wasn’t magic though. As much as I would like to take credit, it’s not a new concept.

Stores use music to keep you shopping longer. Movies and television use music to set mood and tone. Try imagining a movie with no soundtrack—it would be weird. Commercials use jingles and song snippets to play on your memory and keep their product firmly ear-wormed in your brain.  So it makes sense that writing with a soundtrack taps into how the world uses music around us.

Writing with a Soundtrack to Anchor

I use music the same way advertisers do.  I pick one artist (or album) per writing project and listen on repeat until they become synonymous with each other.  By building an association between the music and the story I am classically conditioning myself (see Pavlov).  This helps get me into a creative mind-frame and dive into my characters, settings, and plots faster.  As an added benefit I find having music on lessens other distractions; such as my need to check Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  Associating music with writing keeps my mind on task longer.

Writing with a Soundtrack to Set the Mood

Much like in movies and television, writing with music can help you establish the mood of your scene or project. During NaNoWriMo 2014 I wrote a post-apocalyptic dystopia; I used a dark album, full of angst and lyrics surrounding drug addiction. This helped set the tone of the novel and kept my mind functioning in a space similar to what my characters were enduring.

When I am writing my fantasy pieces I listen to Celtic music or music from my favourite video game soundtrack.  For my romantic piece I listen to modern pop music.  By using different soundtracks for each genre/piece I can keep the mood/tone of the story in mind. It also helps me switch gears when I am working on multiple projects.

Writing with a Soundtrack for Inspiration and Against Writer’s Block

In my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel drug addiction was a side-note, just another tack for my characters to sit on. As I listened to the album I chose I realized that drug addiction was not something that should be a side-note. It is what my characters are fighting against as they come to terms with the loss of the world as they knew it.  The music inspired me to take my characters in a different direction to the benefit of my story.

If you are a believer in writer’s block listening to music can help break through that frustration. It can help reboot your brain. When I run out of steam I often sit, close my eyes, and listen. After a few minutes my mind will wander and the ideas will flow again.  Changing the music you are listening to can help you refocus. If you were listening to something dark and dreary then throw on something up beat and lively.  Dance breaks are always encouraged.

Writing without Music

Not everyone can work with music. Many people find it distracting and end up singing along with the music instead of writing. That’s ok! Even as a person who needs music ninety percent of the time to be productive, there are always times I work better without music.  If you find even the traffic, birds, or constant crying of your children distracting try ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones.

If you want to use music while you write, but feel that lyrics distract you, try classical or instrumental music to start. I often listen to instrumental movie soundtracks (Lord of the Rings; Avatar). Find what works for you and helps you be productive. Experiment!  Try different kinds of music—even if you don’t end up using it while you write you might find something new to enjoy!

For more from Amanda, check out her author website,, or her WordPress writing blog, Reading Over People’s Shoulders.