Welcome to part two of my “how to stay inspired” series. Today I’m going to focus on a particular passion of mine – music. I’m one of those people that others like to describe as “typically arty”. As a kid, I was always involved in the arts, particularly music. I am a pianist, flautist and a (very bad) saxophonist. I’ve always loved music. To me, it is the most raw of all the arts. Writing lyrics are the equivalent of opening your chest and pouring out your soul, the instruments the heartbeat that keeps it alive. So it is of little surprise that I draw huge inspiration from this genre.
We are writers. We see inspiration everywhere. From the slightly creepy old woman that waves hello to us every morning as we walk to work, to the colour of the sky and all in between, inspiration is a part of our day-to-day existence. But sometimes it isn’t enough. Sometimes when you are pushed to get those words down on paper, you need a extra little burst to get you kick started.
Music is a huge part of my creative process. I was having this conversation with a fellow writer the other day. I can’t just listen to music any more. Every song I listen to these days is a story. Lyrics can be a powerful source of inspiration. They are poetry to music (the good ones anyway) They tell in 3 minutes what we work and slave to say in 100,000 words. And that intenseness can give rise to some beautiful artistry that is often lost on the mainstream listeners but can be pure gold for us writers.
So I present…
Choose your Forum
We live in an amazing time where music is incredibly accessible. No longer do you have to trawl through record shops for those obscure CDs (or vinyls) on that band you love that no one else on the planet seems to have heard of or wading through the shelves in Woolworths (remember them? ah childhood) in the hopes of discovering a new hidden gem for your collection. And let’s not talk about the hours we spent uploading all this music to our PC’s before the several hours arguing with Apple before finally getting them on the iPod only to find they’ve all corrupted. Or maybe that was just me…
My point is, music is literally at our fingertips these days. There are so many places and forms. Here are just a few of the top options:
Your own collection – however you have it and however you like to do it. Whether you are still an old-school HMV CD collector, or an Amazon downloader or an Apple junkie, modern cyber-music databases are pretty awesome.
Upsides: The music is yours. Easy (on most mainstream platforms) to organise into playlists. Most of the time no need for an internet connect to listen to the tunes.
Downsides: Cost of the music. Often I find music that inspires me for certain projects isn’t exactly music I want to actually own and spend money on. Plus you need harddrive space somewhere to store them all. And you are on your own when finding new music. Some of the platforms run “suggested” services but if your iTunes is anything like mine they may as well name it to “stuff you definitely won’t like” so not the best.
Streaming – services include Pandora (doesn’t work too well here in the UK but I have US friends that swear by it); Spotify (my platform of choice); Youtube; Booktrack; for just the common few but there are loads out there. Google is your friend. Read reviews and choose one that will work for you.
Upsides: Most offer free services that are pretty decent. Music is really varied and gives you access to stuff you won’t find anywhere else. Easy (on most mainstream platforms) to organise into playlists. You can share with the communities.
Downsides: Requires a data connection (so if you want to use your phone to stream, either make sure you know your wifi spots or get a decent data package). Adverts (though see my hack below).
Quick note on why I choose Spotify:
My favourite function on Spotify is the “radio” function. You start with a song you know you like (or you know is perfect for your book) and then start the song “radio” and it then plays similar songs. When it goes wrong (and sometimes it’s a million miles off base) you can mark it thumbs down and guide Spotify back on track. It is brilliant for discovering new music and is one of my favourite tools. Compared to Youtube’s automatic shuffle for example, the returns are far more accurate to what I’m looking for. Youtube still manages to start at Nightwish and somehow end up at One Direction. Sigh.
Advert hack: The biggest downside to Spotify is the (constant) adverts. However, do not despair. There is a solution that doesn’t involve a paid-for service. If you listen on your PC, there is an extension on Google Chrome called Adblock. It’s dead easy to activate and it blocks not only visual ads (e.g. the spam on Facebook) but also blocks audio ads so it means no ads when streaming via Chrome on either Youtube or Spotify. I don’t use other platforms so I can’t comment if it works on the others, but I imagine it does. If you are a streamer, I highly recommend it.
Start to Playlist
Stage two of the process is playlists. Just like Pinterest last week, you can set them up however you want to so I have a good range from “mood” playlists and “character” playlists to “soundtracks” for my novels as well as specific soundtracks for particular moments. And I repeat for each of my projects. Like I said above, I actually find quite often that the music that inspires a certain project I won’t necessarily like outside of that very specific arena. An example. I have never and I doubt will ever, have any kind of fondness for rap music. I’d go so far as to say I find it abhorrent. However, I have an entire playlist of Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and friends for a specific section of one of my projects where the characters are at a house party and it really helps to get me in the zone. You will also discover genre’s you never knew existed. Techno Jazz anyone? Or maybe Dark Country (current obsession)?
And just like Pinterest, you can also listen to other people’s playlists as well as the Spotify set playlists which can sometimes be pretty good.
I’ve got to the point now where I cannot write without the right music playing. I can tell instantly in the prose if I was writing without a soundtrack because it lacks a depth. I don’t know what it is about music but it wakens something in me on a deeper, almost unconscious emotional level and helps me translate my ideas to paper better.
Music for Motivation
Another playlist I like to have in my arsenal is motivational music. Writing is a cruel art. It takes more than it gives. It can be gruelling and lonely and a very long path. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves why we are doing it. Music that gets me revved up to get stuff done, whether that is writing a blog post despite it being 11pm at night, minus two degrees outside and I know I have work in the morning or reminding myself that just because my book is sucking this month doesn’t mean that by next month it won’t be awesome again, sometimes I need a good kick-start. Here are a few good chest pumpers:
- My “screw you world. Throw whatever you want at me, I’m gonna finish this book come hell or high water” song
2. My corny “I can do this” song
3. My “Why I do this again” song
4. My “war cry”
5. And finally my “It will happen someday” song