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Music & Writing

When I first started writing I did it in perfect silence. Alone with my thoughts with only the sound of the keyboard click clacking, quiet worked for me.

But then I started to experience prolonged periods of being stumped, the words stopped flowing and it became too silent.

I’d read that listening to music can really do wonders when writing because apparently it works both the left and the right side of your brain, it helps you focus, aids creativity and imagination and can bring a variety of emotions to the surface (which is an essential part of telling a story, no?).

So, I decided to give it a try. I prepared a short playlist of some of my favourite pieces of music, put on my headphones and delved back into my first draft.

I soon realized that listening to music or having it play in the background really does make a difference. I was able to concentrate for longer, create more detailed scenes, write dialogue with enhanced emotion, and it generally just made the writing process more enjoyable.

However, it’s important that you choose the right type of music to really benefit from it. In my first playlist I’d included a mixture of songs with lyrics and orchestral pieces, but I found that lyrics were quite distracting as I’d end up singing along instead of doing any writing. Also, a few of the orchestral pieces didn’t fit the tone of my story so it was doing the opposite of inspiring me.

After playing around with the playlist and trying out different genres, artists and even volume, I finally have the perfect set of music for me.

Here are a few tracks from my list that put me in a writing trance:

  • Ludovico Einaudi – Walk
  • Ludovico Einaudi – Earth Prelude
  • Ludovico Einaudi – I Giorni
  • Adam Taylor – River Crossing
  • Adam Taylor – Applause for a Refugee
  • Bonobo – Kong
  • A selection of Hans Zimmer film scores

I have to add that even though music has really helped me during my first draft, there are still times where I prefer quiet; usually when reading over what I’ve already written or during edits. I think it’s really just about what works for you. Like everything else writing.

What do you listen to when writing? Or do you find music distracting? Share in the comments!

Believe in the Write Stuff

I’ve always had trouble believing in myself… Or more specifically; that I can really do this writing thing.

It took many, many years for me to really have a go at it. The novel I started working on last September is the one that has finally stuck and I’ve finally hit the 50k mark on my first draft. That’s about 49k more than I’ve ever written for a book idea. It’s taken me roughly 8 months to get here and I really hope it doesn’t take me another 8 months for the next half. BUT even if it takes me another 2 years to turn the last page and to be able to say, “I’m done. This is it. My first book is complete,” what’s important is that I started and I finished. It would mean that I managed to believe in myself enough for all that time to actually achieve my goal.

If you’re a writer too then you’ll know the tremondous effort and commitment it takes to create your characters and plot, and to literally just pick an idea and try to build it into something that makes sense, is enjoyable and memorable. Especially if you have other responsibilities, like a day job or kids – because now you have time limitations too (not to mention a lack of energy). But you keep going. That’s why we call ourselves ‘writers’. We write. Whether we’re good at it or need some more time and practice is another matter.

So tell me, what happens after you spend countless hours pouring your head, heart and soul into your work, you beat yourself up then overcome the doubt (often on a daily basis), you tell yourself you got this and you dream about the success that might be waiting for you at the end of your finished manuscript… Then someone (whether it’s family or a friend) comes up to you and says something along these lines:

“You’re a shit writer. You will never succeed. The world doesn’t need anymore novelists. Why is it taking you so long? Get a real job.”

What do you do? What do you think? What do you even say?

Does it give you more drive to keep going and be better than before? Or does it put you in a slump and you end up thinking they might be right, I’m never going to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King anyway?

I say fuck it. Whoever thinks that they can try to put you down like that and try to kill your self belief – the one you’ve spent years struggling with – can truly just fuck off.

Writing is a hard, time consuming, stressful, and often ego-killing job. But it’s also become my favourite thing to do. It can be freeing, fun and an escape for the writer – and one day, the reader.

Don’t stop doing what you love just because of the thoughtless, hurtful and spiteful words of someone who lacks empathy and understanding.

Be you. Believe in your talent. Believe in your dreams. Believe in what you write. Please, don’t give up.

Overcoming ‘The Block’

“Nothing will work unless you do.” 

Maya Angelou

To be clear, I don’t exactly believe in such a thing as ‘writer’s block’. There’s no invisible wall that surrounds our minds and creativity, or invisible handcuffs that prevent us from getting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)…

But even I am guilty of using ‘the block’ when I want to excuse my shameless procrastination.

I do think that there are periods where every writer struggles to come up with ideas, inspiration, the will to carry on. This is normal. Fear, stress, boredom and panic can deter a writer for a number of days (or even weeks, months or years)… If we let it.

The fear of being judged, the stress that comes with the amount of writing still left to do, getting bored of your own work, and panicking that you’ll never make it, are all factors in this ‘block’. Especially that of being overwhelmed by thoughts from day-to-day life.

The key is to get the ball rolling, then keep it rolling – however fast or slow.

here’s a quick list of tricks & strategies that might help you get back into the beautiful flow of writing:

  • Get primitive. As unsettling as it may be, disconnect yourself from the temptations of the world wide web. I am 100% guilty of jumping on Twitter (or the sort) every time the words take a pause. Then I realize I haven’t written anything for ten – fifteen (even twenty) minutes, and this makes it harder to get back into the flow. It becomes a vicious cycle. So, put your phone on airplane mode (unless you have kids in school… wouldn’t want to miss an emergency call), log out of all social media accounts, or just disable your Wi-Fi (if you don’t need to do any research or look anything up while writing).
  • Step away from the desk. Sometimes you just need to get up and move your workstation elsewhere; the park, the coffee shop – anywhere that’s not your usual spot. Fresh scenery and a change of atmosphere might trigger your creative juices.
  • Play music. Find a song without words or just some good old ambient noise that matches the current mood/scene of your WIP and keep it on in the background. There are so many times this has helped me get back into the flow. It’s honestly a great way to unlock the creativity within you. Personally, I love listening to pieces by Ludovico Einaudi.
  • Make notes. The moment inspiration strikes and you get that golden nugget of an idea drop into your hands, make note of it. Even if you can’t add into your WIP straight away, it will be there when you’re sitting at your laptop with twitching eyes and fingers, thinking of what to write.
  • Read. It can be a book of a similar genre to the one you’re writing to help you reclaim some of that excitement for your own work. Or, it can be the total opposite to clear your mind of spaceships, dragons, murderers, ghosts or sex… Basically a break from whatever you’re fed up of thinking and writing about.
  • Routine. Develop a routine for when it’s time to write. For example, once I take my kid to school, I put the little one to sleep with a bottle of milk, make a cup of coffee/tea/hot chocolate (whatever I’m feeling that day), grab a blanket and my laptop stand, and get comfy in my spot. I do this at noon, Monday through Friday (unless I have an appointment), and take the weekends off. Now my brain has been trained to realize when it’s time to get to workin’. Of course there are those days where I struggle and end up writing 1/4 of what I might write on a ‘good’ day. But routine has definitely helped me keep writing.
  • Just write. Seriously, write anything. It could even be totally unrelated to your WIP. The point is to keep the creativity going. The words are already in you. You just have to let them out.

So, what do you think… Is writer’s block a real thing that you just have to wait out and hope you break free? Or is it something under your control that you can power through?

Writing a Novel: The Rules

“Beware of advice – even this.” ~ Carl Sandburg

How many writers out there have read through (or at least skimmed) dozens of books about the art of writing; looking for guidelines, rules and loads of other bits of advice on how to write the best book in the whole entire world, before finally putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)?

I know I have.

I was so anxious for so many years about getting it wrong and being ridiculed by other writers, readers, publishers and, basically, just everyone, that I went on a mad search for all the highest rated novel writing books that I could get my hands on. I read through most of them trying to soak in all the do’s and don’ts and ooh’s and ahh’s of captivating a reader and publisher.

Here are just a few of the rules of novel writing I came across during this frenzied learning marathon:

  • Write what you know.
  • Write what you don’t know.
  • Write an outline.
  • Go with the flow.
  • Set a deadline.
  • Take your time.
  • Write everyday.
  • Only use “said” to carry dialogue.
  • Don’t start a book with the weather, or waking up, or looking at a reflection.

Boy, oh boy. As you can see, there are so many contradicting “rules”, that all I had achieved by the end of that information vortex, was giving myself a headache and piling on the confusion even more.

All I could really do at that point was to start. Just start writing. I started with an outline first; the plot, the conflicts, the character profiles etc. (Have I kept to the outline? That’s a different matter entirely. You can read about it on my previous post: Planner, Pantser… Maybe a Planster). Then I moved on to my first word, first sentence, first page, first chapter, and so on.

Then I realized…

There are no rules when it comes to writing. At least, not just one definitive set for every single writer in the world. Everyone is different, everyone has their own style, their own methods to keep motivated, organized, in control. By the time I was totally consumed in my story, I forgot all the rules I was supposed to be keeping to and just did my own thing.

I broke the “rules.”

  • I couldn’t only write what I knew. What I knew wasn’t enough to take my story to the places it had to go. So, I had more research and learning to do.
  • I wrote an outline, but ended up changing things around quite a bit. For the better.
  • I set a deadline (I set many), but disruptions in my schedule due to other responsibilities and unanticipated events forced me to put writing on hold.
  • That meant I couldn’t write everyday.
  • I use more than just “said.”
  • And, yes, I started off with the weather. Wanna know why? Because it’s crucial to my story, that’s why.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re setting off on this journey to writing your first novel, don’t worry about the rules. What works for 10,000 other writers might not work for you. Only after gaining some experience and practice, you can maybe set yourself some guidelines to keep yourself in check or to make the process easier.

Here are some tips that I think might be helpful:

  1. Write when you can. Forcing yourself to write (just to keep to schedule or hit your daily word target) when you have more urgent matters to take care of, will only lower the quality of your thinking and focus. You’ll probably have to change what you’ve done once you look back at it.design desk display eyewear
  2. Don’t neglect yourself. Sleep when you have to sleep, eat, drink, leave the house, meet up with friends or family, pamper yourself. Self-care is so important regardless of what you do, but especially more so when you’re writing a book. The countless hours you spend sitting down at a desk or with a laptop on your lap, straining your eyes on the screen, stressing out trying to get the words down on paper as you see the scene play out in your mind. As much fun, freeing and fulfilling writing can be, it can also be stressful and tense and lonely. DON’T FORGET YOU.backlit clouds dawn dusk
  3. When you get an idea, write it down. I can’t stress this enough. YOU WILL MOST LIKELY NOT REMEMBER IT WHEN YOU WAKE UP! Even if you are sure you will… Trust me.blur business close up composition
  4. Don’t let others get you down. Don’t let them stop you, or rush you. Do what you have to do to accomplish your dreams.man in red crew neck sweatshirt photography

The Ultimate Hero: A Debate About ‘Lord of the Rings’

**SPOILER ALERT**

… For anyone who hasn’t watched it… Seriously though, it’s been like 18 years…

I had just finished my 100th marathon of Lord of the Rings, and as per usual, I was frustrated that Frodo caved in at the last second and decided not to throw the ring into the fire.

So, I took to Twitter (as you do) to ask the opinion of my fellow tweeters, who they thought the real hero of the story was. I gave two options on the poll; Frodo or Sam. The comments section was used for any other choice of character/s or opinions.

First, I just want to say that I did not think this would get as many interactions as it did, but I am so pleased that so many people shared their thoughts because… Well, because I was curious.

Anyway, at the start of the poll (with my fresh irritation at Frodo), I commented that I believed Sam was the hero, 100%. My reason is below ↓

This seemed to have opened up a whole can of worms and my irritation quickly died down as I read some very reasonable points as to why Frodo was the hero, or why they were both the heroes; if not two of many within the entire story. (Scroll to the bottom for poll results.)

I’ll start with a few quotes from Team Sam:

Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, in Peter Jackson’s motion picture,
Lord of the Rings
  • “Sam saves Frodo from the spider and carries him up the mountain when he falls over. And that’s after he sent him away.”
  • “Everyone is giving Frodo a pass because he endured the ring for so long, but Bilbo had it far longer, and didn’t give half as much of a stuff about giving it up as Frodo did.”
  • “Frodo was just the ring box Sam carried.”

These opinions are pretty much reflective of what my own opinions were. Sam stuck by Frodo through it all, he stopped him (numerous times) from giving into the will of the ring, warned him about Gollum and even went back to save Frodo after he was told to leave. And not only that; when Sam believed Frodo was dead from Shelob’s sting, he took the ring but then gave it back as soon as he found Frodo alive. That’s something many of the other characters might have really struggled with.

Now, a few snippets from Team Frodo:

Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, in Peter Jackson’s motion picture, Lord of the Rings
  • “Frodo had to endure carrying the ring and had to keep choosing to carry it and choosing to leave people who could help him so it wouldn’t corrupt them.”
  • “Sam yes, helps Frodo, but he goes home. Frodo sacrifices everything. His home, almost his life, his very soul, to destroy the Ring. I got go with Frodo.”
  • “I see Frodo as the hero for he bore the burden of the corruption of his soul and the loss of his innocence.”

These reasons definitely swayed my initial 100% for Sam. The fact that Frodo decided to sacrifice his mind and body to the corruption of the ring so that nobody else had to, deserves respect. He was the first to offer to take the ring to Mt Doom during the meeting at Rivendell, which lead to the fellowship, and opened the way for all the other characters to begin their own heroic quests.

Team Aragorn:

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, in Peter Jackson’s motion picture,
Lord of the Rings
  • “Aragorn. Because he turned down the ring where so many others failed, fought off 5 wraiths alone, and marched to certain death trying to draw the eye away from Frodo and Sam.”
  • Aragorn. He was the symbol that kept everyone believing and who actually had the power to win in battle.”

Don’t hate me for not putting this as an option in the poll, I swear I was going to (along with Gandalf). I changed my mind at the last moment. I don’t think anyone can deny the importance of Aragorn’s role within the story. He saved the hobbits many times, he lead the way in battle and was victorious. And at the end, when he was willing to sacrifice himself to create a diversion for Sam and Frodo so they could destroy the ring, it was the epitome of heroism.

However, I was a bit annoyed when he yelled, “For Frodo!” before charging towards the Orcs. What about Sam, Aragorn? What about Sam?

And for TeamWork:

The Fellowship of the Ring,
in Peter Jackson’s motion picture,
Lord of the Rings
  • “Frodo carried the ring. But Sam carried Frodo. Without either one of them Middle Earth would have fallen to the darkness.”
  • “I don’t think Frodo or Sam either one would have succeeded on their own. LOTR is full of heroes, all fulfilling their roles in the bigger plan. Eowyn, Aragorn, Gandalf, and all the rest were integral parts of the salvation of Middle Earth.”

The Lord of the Rings is unique in the sense that it has so many strong, capable, and brave characters all doing their part to ensure the safety of their loved ones, homes and pretty much their entire world. First of all, Gandalf is just super cool. I wish he was my granddad. But all jokes aside, he was the first to sacrifice himself to save the others from the Balrog. That honestly could have just been the end of them.

Then Eowyn goes and kills the Witch-King of Angmar, saving thousands of lives on the battlefield (can’t forget her awesome line, “I am no man!”). And Legolas and Gimli are just always up for the fight, doing what they can to make a difference and supporting Aragorn throughout. Even Merry and Pippin contribute greatly by persuading the Ents to take down Saruman’s base, Isengard (and many more deeds follow).

Even Gollum scored some hero points:

Gollum, in Peter Jackson’s motion picture,
Lord of the Rings
  • “Neither would have made to that volcano w/o Gollum’s guidance. Plus, Gollum’s the one who took the ring to it’s doom, granted, it was unintentional.”

Yeah, I don’t like him. He was a villain from the moment he laid eyes on the ring, killing his own brother for it. He tried to be good for a little while but he was too selfish and gave in to the will of the ring. You need good intention to be considered a hero, and his intention was always to keep the ring for himself.

The results of the poll

Results: Sam was victorious by a long shot.

Out of 1,041 votes over a 24 hour period, 86% voted for Sam as the “real hero”.

And even though that was the idea I started this poll with, by the time of the verdict, my opinion had changed. Whether it was my annoyance at Frodo dying down or realizing a new side to the burden he carried, I can see now that all his whining, his inability to protect himself, and failing at the end, was all due to the power of the ring.

I also want to add that there is no one true hero in this story. It’s a weaving of heroic acts from many different characters that ultimately saves Middle Earth from the forces of Sauron’s army and the rule of the ring.

This poll made me realize that there doesn’t necessarily have to be one ultimate hero when writing a story. Every character can attempt their own small heroic deeds, which might eventually lead to a victory; whether it’s a side victory, personal victory or one for the quest of the antagonist or protagonist. It’s okay to share out the ‘hero’ title amongst your characters. If anything, it makes for a stronger story.

What do you think?