Category Archives: Writing Tips
It’s more than half way through July NaNoWriMo and I have almost nothing written. I’m set up in my parent’s patio watching the rain with bebop jazz on Pandora and coffee on the table. The only thing that would complete this mock-café scenario would be the sound of dishes clattering, people chattering and baristas calling out orders with the excitement of a greyhound race announcer. “Macchiato ready at the bar with chi latte and a bagel gaining in second!”
In addressing writer’s block, the use of sound, or the lack thereof, is frequently suggested. It is the screwdriver of any writer’s tool box. The problem is, there are all kinds of screwdrivers for all sorts of jobs and it’s no different when talking about the frequency on which one’s writing brain tunes in static-free. I’m not simply referring to varying taste in music from scribe to scribe but rather to the way it’s used in a writing session.
Many experienced writers agree that it is best to write to music without lyrics. I didn’t think I could get into that since, everything I listen to, I sing along with but that’s just the point; I want to focus on writing not singing. Lyrics tell their own story and I should tell mine. Fellow writers have suggested classical music and movie soundtracks but neither of those really fit my style. I never realized how limited to dramatic scenes movie soundtracks can be. Most of what I write falls somewhere between the intensities of the great battle and the death bed. I can’t have my characters bickering at a newsstand while symbols crash or harps swell.
During a write-in at a Starbucks, an exquisite piece of jazz music came on just as I was describing a femme fatal swirling gracefully in a futuristic swimming pool. The music had character without grandeur. I never was much of a jazz fan but, as soon as the scene and the melody were over, I hopped up to the bar to ask what track that was and if they sell it. The barista was really surprised that I actually liked it. I’m sure working there must be like serving coffee in a posh elevator for 8 hours. I don’t think his reaction could have been more comical if he were an ice-cream truck driver and I asked him if I could get “Pop Goes the Weasel” on my iPod.
I bought a few jazz cd’s and listened to them any time I sat down to write. That helped a bit. I already had a few tracks of thunder storm sound effects and they mixed well with the jazz. In addition, I have a program that simulates the look and sound of an old fashion typewriter. The clickity clack of the keys and the ping of the carriage return are sounds that get my frontal lobe firing. Sometimes I write absolute nonsense into a scene just to hear it and that turns out to be my best work. I fiddled with things like lighting, décor and coffee scented candles over the years to create an ambiance that might fool me into thinking that I was C.S. Lewis writing from a window overlooking an English garden. I recommend it for anyone who wants to feel like a writer without actually writing.
Purely for that ambiance, today would be perfect. The Texas lawn is returning to a healthy yellow after a long drought and that’s close enough to ‘English garden.’ I don’t really want to be at a café either. I feel required to buy an extra pair of love handles any time I go to those places and, if I’m not feeling the story, I leave with nothing done.
That doesn’t matter because right now all I want is that café sound. I had used the Amazon Cloud Player to download rain sounds and crowds cheering (don’t ask) in the past. I wondered if they had café background sound effects and joy to me they did! As I scrolled through the tracks available for 99 cent downloads I was spoiled for choice. They had airport cafes and Italian restaurants complete with authentic utterances, at least I assume they’re authentic. But as I clicked through I discovered something so much better than a good writing mood. They have background noise for space stations, offices, high schools and playgrounds.
That’s when it hits me; I’ve been going about the concept of using sound as a writing aid all wrong. It’s not about creating a writing mood in my world. It’s about “listening” to the scene in my character’s world. How can I take dictation of my character’s dialogue if I’m not listening to them? If I’m on the phone with someone who tells me to get an address down I don’t crank up the radio. I played a bus station track and I was in the space station docking area that I needed to write about next. Is this inspiration fleeting? I’m willing to give it a shot.