Today, I’m interviewed on author Kevin Cooper’s blog about The Courtesan’s Avenger, my writing process, and my best tips for aspiring authors. Check it out!
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!
Today is my husband, Daniel’s, birthday, and as far as I’m concerned, it is one of the most exciting birthdays he has ever had. You see, even though we have been together for over two years, this is the first time we can share his birthday together. We were in a long distance relationship for his first two birthdays of our relationship, and I am thrilled that we will finally be together to celebrate him.
Beyond the excitement of sharing milestones together, the transition to being close-distance and living together has brought dozens of new facets to our relationship. Most relevant to this blog, our relationship — and, I would argue, our marriage — has entirely transformed my writing career. Daniel takes on so many important roles in my writing career that I can honestly say I would not be where I am today without him.
Now, don’t worry. I am not going to get up on a soapbox and preach the superiority of marriage to single-hood or pressure anyone into popping the question prematurely. Trust me, I remember the benefits of singledom; I’m only 22. All I’m going to do is brag on my husband for his birthday and tell you ways that a healthy, loving partnership can help you reach your fullest potential as a creative (in my case, writer) and as a person.
To put it simply, here are all the roles Daniel takes on that have helped springboard my writing career:
“For better or worse,” right? Daniel has been incredibly supportive of my writing career. Every time I doubt myself, he is there to pick me back up and remind me of all the reasons I can achieve my dreams.
Fan and Advocate
Daniel loves proclaiming himself my number one fan (though I imagine my mom would grapple with him for that title). He does all the things “fans” do: he brags about my creative mind, brings up my success in conversations, and encourages his friends and family to check out my latest projects. I made my Facebook author page, but he is the one who hacked my account and made it go live (no joke). And while I was irritated about that at first, in retrospect, it was exactly the supportive push off the cliff I needed.
As I have said before, Daniel is the one who introduced me to independent publishing. However, his role has not ended there. He constantly looks for podcasts, books, and industry news that will interest and assist me. Moreover, he is always thinking about ways to market my author business and diversify it, and he is 100% willing and happy to invest our finances and time in this venture. That in and of itself is vital to my future as a writer.
Daniel is always anxious to read what I write, so I let him read along with my first drafts as he chooses. The only rule is: on the first draft, he cannot say anything negative unless it is a ginormous plot hole that must be fixed immediately. So far, he’s helped me catch one major plot hole, and otherwise, built up my ego with compliments.
The critic role has not come into play too much yet. However, I know that, when I am ready for my manuscript to be critiqued, Daniel will do his best to help. Right now, he does a good job of keeping my attitude in check and keeping me on a positive creative path.
Seriously, though. This man has saved me from a many a mental breakdown and our technological equipment from many a dangerous situation.
During NaNoWriMo, Daniel kept me accountable to my writing. Every night after work he asked me how much I had written during my lunch break. Then, after dinner, he would ask me when writing time was and literally push me up the stairs to the office if necessary. While this sounds harsh, I am so grateful to have had the extra push and to finally have someone truly hold me accountable to my goals.
I do my best brainstorming by talking through my plot out loud. There have been so many times where I have made Daniel the dumping ground for my brainstorming and rambled on about my plot or characters or setting. However, even though he knows that I am not always looking for feedback or actually talking to him, he listens and lets me get it all out of my system.
Daniel has just finished two degrees, and he is working toward his second Master’s degree, to be followed by a PhD. He throws himself into all aspects of his academic community, and he is tirelessly working toward achieving his own dreams. If that hardwork, dedication, and confidence is not the perfect example for me to replicate in my own career efforts, I don’t know what is.
If you are married, your spouse may not fulfill all of these roles — and you may not need or want all of these roles to come from your partner. If you are not in a relationship, there are likely several close friends or family members that fill these roles for you. Either way, trust me when I say, it is so reassuring to know that someone has your back and will do everything s/he can to help you achieve your dreams.
Before marrying Daniel, I was a “writer” with big dreams and little action. Now, I am a writer (no quotation marks necessary) with big dreams, big actions, and big plans. Can I give him 100% credit for my success? No. I think I deserve I good chunk of it. However, I can say, having him in my life has been a huge help and momentum builder.
That’s what marriage is about. Having someone in your life, who has chosen and committed to you, who helps you be the best version of yourself you can be. And lucky for me, I’ve got it.
Happy birthday, honey. I love you.
Now that I have discussed the inspiration behind The Cogsmith’s Daughter as well as my plotting process, I want to share with you all my drafting process. I wish I could say that I have some magic secret to divulge. You see, back when I was “struggling” as a writer (read: not writing), I used to scour the internet for information on how to write a novel. Even though I knew better, I kept hoping that someone, somewhere would share the secret formula that would finally allow me to write a complete manuscript.
If you are like former-Kate and are looking for that secret, I’m sorry, I don’t have it. And frankly, it doesn’t exist. The only way that this first draft got written was through hard work, time management, and fear of embarrassment. While my process may not work for you and will definitely not give you that magic spark, I hope it will pass along a healthy dose of realism and optimism.
Step One: Find Your Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
If you are a writer, you likely know your intrinsic motivation. You love to craft stories, you love language, you love getting lost in your own world. Whatever it is, you should already know why you write for you. For many writers, this is enough. However, some of us (read: me) need a little extra push to get started. That is where the extrinsic motivation comes in.
For me, I had two extrinsic motivators to write The Cogsmith’s Daughter. First, I was participating in NaNoWriMo, which gives a pre-set word count goal and comes with a huge support network. Second, I told everyone that I was doing NaNoWriMo. By being so vocal, I triggered my inner sense of obligation, which has always been my best motivator in my academic life. If I feel obligated to do something, my goodness, I will do it.
Step Two: Sit Your Butt Down and Write
If there is a magic secret, this is it. During every single day of NaNoWriMo (except for Day 15, my “break” day), I sat down at the computer to write. Even when I was tired, even when I wanted to see family or friends, even when a good movie was on, even when I had a migraine the size of Russia — I sat down and wrote.
Step Three: Turn Off the Inner Editor
It is important to note that I also sat down alone. I left my inner editor at the door. I wish I could tell you exactly how to do this. It is a concept I struggled with for years. However, all I can say is that I had a major mental shift. Part of this is due to my recent mental change in the way I think about writing, but the other part consists of repeating mantras and just blocking out the editor.
If you struggle with shutting up your inner editor, try repeating something like this: It is OK if the first draft is bad. I can edit later. However, if I do not write the first draft, I will never have anything to edit. So, editor, shut up and let me make something for you to edit.
Step Four: Set Small Goals
Because I went into my draft with specific story beats in mind, I was able to write according to the beats. Therefore, each writing session was linked to a beat or scene that needed writing. This made my writing sessions seem manageable. After all, sitting down to write and saying to yourself, “Okay, I’m going to write a novel,” is a terrifying, paralyzing task. In contrast, sitting down to write and saying, “Okay, my character simply needs to go grocery shopping,” is much more achievable and way less overwhelming.
For the record, even though NaNoWriMo suggests tracking daily success by word count, I find that writing scene by scene is much more effective. It does not carry the same stress as quantifying a writing session does, and in all honesty, most scenes you write will exceed the daily NaNo word count of 1,667 words anyway. Win-win.
Step Five: If Busy, Steal Small Moments to Write
When I knew I would not be able to write in the evening, I wrote during my lunch break at work. When I was too busy at work to steal half an hour for writing, I sacrificed half an hour of TV time in the evening. If you ride public transportation during your commute, write during your commuting time. If you can get up an hour early in the morning, write then. Hell, one paragraph written hastily on your phone while you’re waiting in an elevator is better than nothing at all. (And for the quality police out there, you can edit that crappy paragraph later.)
Step Six: If Inspiration is Slow, Set the Mood
Some writers like to write to music, I am not one of these. I like silence. However, when I felt particularly unexcited about writing or could not get into the right mood, I would listen to a song to unwind from my day and set the tone for my writing session. Top picks for The Cogsmith’s Daughter were: Light ‘Em Up by Fall Out Boy, Kids by MGMT, Heaven Knows by The Pretty Reckless, Lonely Boy by The Black Keys, and The End by My Chemical Romance.
Don’t ask why. There is no method to this madness, only feeling.
Step Seven: Visualize the End Result
Knowing that you have a finished manuscript is pure elation. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Think about what it will be like to have that novel finished. Imagine how you will celebrate, who you will tell first, all of those details. If that does not keep you going, I don’t know what will.
And that’s it. All I did was sit down at the computer every day, maybe listen to a song to frame my writing mood, and then I wrote. I wrote when I felt like a genius, when I felt like a joke, and when I felt just plain crazy. I wrote when I was tired, energized, happy, and sad. I wrote at home, at work, on the couch, at my desk, in a coffee house, and in a doctor’s office. I wrote quickly and slowly, mostly quickly. I wrote with passion and abandon, without a care and with every care.
I wrote for me. And I finished the first draft.
How do you write your first drafts? What tricks or tips would you add for new writers? Pass on your wisdom below!
A while back, I wrote about the legendary writing myth, “your first novel will suck.” As I explain in the article, I strongly disagree with this claim. However, when it comes to first drafts, I must admit, I do believe that most of them suck.
Okay, perhaps “suck” is a rather strong word. Let’s say, your first draft will probably not be good or will probably need serious improvement.
Don’t worry! You and your novel will both be fine. In fact, if you are concerned that the first draft of your novel will be abysmal, relax! The bad news is: yes, it probably will be bad. But, there is plenty of good news to outweigh the bad. For instance:
Of course, as artists, we hate to think that any of our art is terrible. And maybe none of it is. However, if you’re going to do some bad writing, wouldn’t you rather get it all out of the way with the first draft so the horror doesn’t seep into your finished manuscript?
No One Has to See It
You don’t have to show anyone your first draft. Ever. You can thoroughly revise and rewrite every piece of it before it ever sees the light of day (assuming you want it to). No one ever has to know that you changed a character’s name three times on accident and you misused the various forms of “there,” “their,” and “they’re” at every available opportunity.
You Can Edit, Revise, and Rewrite
You can change your first draft in any way you want. And you know what? You can change it as many times as you want! There are no limits to re-drafting, so just get your story out on the page and worry about polishing it later.
You Can Hire/Acquire Professional Help
If you are a terrible editor or proofreader, that’s okay. There are plenty of resources out there where you can find professional copy editors, developmental editors, and proofreaders to help you polish your manuscript. Similarly, if you are picked up by a traditional publisher, they will provide you with professionals to help you make your manuscript the best it can be. So, just do your personal best and then get the pros to do the rest!
Don’t take it personally. If you ask 100 career writers about their first drafts, I guarantee 99 of them would not have overwhelmingly positive things to say about them. Like Anne Lamott says in her book, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, most writers create “shitty first drafts.” Remember: your favorite novel started off as a shitty first draft; it’s okay if your great novel does, too.
At Least You Wrote a Novel
Sure, your first draft may not be the best version of your novel. However, when you type that final punctuation mark, you can officially say that you have, in fact, written a novel. This is a lifetime goal for millions of people, and the sheer fact that you achieved this feat should not be taken lightly. Take some time to enjoy the moment and be proud of yourself!
The Worst Part is Over
Once you have that first draft written, the brunt of your work is done. Your novel is planned and written. Now, all you have to do is polish it up (possibly with the help of others) and jump on whichever publishing highway you choose. And yes, while independent publishing takes a lot of work and waiting for a traditional publishing deal can be excruciating — you should already know those steps. So, take your novel draft and get to them (or bury it in a drawer/hard drive, your choice)!
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. For whatever reason, there is a culture of artistic suffering in the writing community (which is worth a whole other post). Therefore, when a writer can say that she bled, sweated, and cried over her craft, and finally emerged on the other side of the word processor/journal with a completed first draft, there’s pride in that. Writing a terrible first draft (and especially turning it into something great) is a weird rite of passage in this community. Own your progress and wear your first draft like a badge of honor. Again, you’ve done more than many people already!
Seriously, writer friends, just keep calm and keep writing. If you wind up with a miraculously brilliant first draft, good for you! Revise it anyway and make it even better! If you end up with a first draft that leaves something to be desired, don’t sweat it! Just remember, your first draft is the first step toward a great novel and a great writing career. And, as always with writer problems, you’re never alone!
What silver linings do you find in your first drafts? Are your first drafts masterpieces or messes? Share your experiences below!