Musical Musings

There’s nothing better than curling up on the couch with your novel and a good song to set the mood. While not everyone likes to write with music, there are plenty of us who need that additional inspiration to guide us through our craft. I’m one of those people who can listen to the same song on repeat for hours on end because it elicits a certain emotion that keeps me going.

Music has always been important in my life. When I was a kid, I remember listening to the Little Mermaid soundtrack. I could tell my mom what was happening based on the music. And I’m not talking about the songs with lyrics. I mean the instrumental pieces. I played the clarinet in middle school. My dad introduced me to the world of opera and operetta (still love it that Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street was the first operetta I attended). I also loved musicals like Cats, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Sound of Music, Rent, etc. I learned how music can tell a story, not just in the lyrics, but with the instruments alone.

As I got older, I started creating my own stories to the music. I’d pick a song like Vivaldi’s “Winter” and I’d sit back, close my eyes, and try to imagine a story that was happening through the music. Characters sprang to life. Icy forests caught in a snowy storm. Snow fairies darting through tree branches and bushes. It wasn’t just music to me; it became an entire world.

So I started collecting songs that did several things for my writing; created the world, represented my characters, and quieted my mind. I made playlists that were 40 songs long because they all reminded me of my characters or world in some way. Right now, Naomi Scott’s “Speechless” from the new Aladdin movie is my song of choice. The lyrics remind me of one of my characters who survived an abusive relationship and came out stronger than ever. Some of the lyrics like “I will take these broken wings / and watch me burn across the sky” make me think of my character who literally has a phoenix living inside of her.

So what can you do to help you get into the creative mood using music?

Character Playlists: Find music that reminds you of characters. I pick out lyrical songs for most of these because the words invoke feelings about the characters and what they’ve gone through in their lives. I used to create separate playlists per book, but sometimes when I don’t know what to write, I just put them all on shuffle and see which character speaks to me the most.

World-building Playlists: I mostly choose instrumental music for these, but having lyrical songs that represent your story’s time frame or world can be just as useful. James Horner’s “Avatar” and Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings” soundtracks are definitely ones I use for my fantasy/medieval stories. On the flip side, I might use pop music or gothic rock (thank you Within Temptation and Evanescence) for my urban fantasy world because it just fits the setting and the characters. Play around. See what catches your attention.

Mood Playlist:  I also create playlists that have nothing to do with my characters or worlds. These are generally songs that I know won’t distract me from writing and will actually sooth me if I’m stressed out. Some easy choices are meditation soundtracks with water, music, and soothing chimes or bells. Another day, I might replay the “Night King” from the Game of Thrones’ season 8 soundtrack 15 times. Right now, I’m listening to “Lord of the Rings Music & Ambiance.” Most of my mood music is a mix between gentle or sad. It’s rare, but sometimes I’ll have louder, head banging music. Again, it depends on the mood. But this might help you get into the groove of writing. Turn on your playlist, settle into a comfortable spot, and get writing!

There are also fun programs out there where you can create your own ambiance.  Check out Ambient Mixer. Maybe you want to spend an afternoon in the Gryffindor common room or explore Rivendell. Perhaps Loki’s quarters are much more to your liking. You can listen to premade background music or make your own.

Everyone has their own tastes in music and their own ways to get into the writing mood. What do you do? Do you have favorite songs that inspire you? How do you find them? Feel free to post below.

Happy writing and listening!

 

Meditation and Writing

Those of you who have followed my blog long enough know that I like to periodically spend time talking about mental health. As someone with depression and anxiety, it’s important for me to find ways to relax my mind so I can heal and also focus on my writing. Most people also know that I suck at self care, and it’s something I’m trying very hard to learn.

Recently, I started attending group therapy that focuses on the mind, body, and soul. I always thought I was awful at meditation (I still struggle with it), but the more I work at it, the more I realize how much it calms me. Sometimes I use my own writing as a form of meditation, typing out a stream of consciousness without any concerns about my language or where I’m going with it. I do that when I talk about my dreams, or if I’m having an episode where I just really need to get my emotions out. I generally call that my angry poetry phase.

But I digress.

Meditation is a habit that I think we can all benefit from, so I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned, and other kinds of meditation I do to ease my stress/anxiety.

Deep Breathing

This is probably one of the best and easiest ones to start out with. Whenever I get worked up (or wake up from nightmares like I did last night), I try to focus on deep breathing. Sit in a relaxed position and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. You want to focus on making your belly feel soft. My guide suggests that you whisper “soft” when you breathe in, and “belly” when you breathe out. Try to do this for awhile. Even 5 minutes of deep breathing meditation can really help. It certainly helps me get through a bad work day.

Here’s a guided meditation that can help.

Music and Mindfulness 

Once you have the breathing down, try to be mindful of your body. I like to put on soft music, usually water mixed with song or music that focuses on peaceful sleep. There are also a ton of apps on your phone that you can download that have guided meditation or songs. The app Calm is a great example.

Lie down (or sit) in a comfortable position and turn on the music. Then focus on feeling each part of your body. Your arms, your legs, your fingers and toes, your head. Loosen each muscle one at a time and focus on your breathing and relaxing your body. Guided meditation can help you focus. Make sure you think about your body and don’t let your mind wander (easier said than done for us writers). If it does wander, that’s okay. Just pull it back into the moment.

Only have a few minutes? Try a quick 5 minute meditation for things like anxiety.

Imagery Meditation 

One of my favorite forms of meditation is something I didn’t exactly realize I was doing until I talked with my therapist. Imagery meditation is essentially when you create an image in your head and focus on that. It could be imagining light coming down and wrapping around you. It could be picturing water or waves crashing against rocks. Maybe you see yourself on a beach or in a forest. Or, in my case, I imagine a garden that only I can enter. Focusing on each detail gives your mind something else to think about other than stresses or anything else that’s bothering you.

Here’s a guided video for example.

Animal Meditation

Okay, so this might be something that I made up, but I think animal lovers can understand where I’m coming from. There are moments when I pet my birds or preen them where all my stress just goes away. The same thing happens when Aladdin, my sun conure, sleeps on my chest. I can feel his breath and his little heartbeat and it calms me. I find myself relaxing and focusing on them and their happiness, and it makes me happy in return. Imagine doing that with a dog or a cat. I bet you wouldn’t mind spending 10 or 15 minutes doting on them.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, often a more peaceful mind helps with my writing. The ideas flow more freely without bundles of anxiety and depression distracting me or clouding my brain. I’ve been playing meditative musical tracks while writing, and I can feel my anxiety go down while I work.

Writing can also act as a prelude to meditation. If you’re upset or filled with a bunch of emotion, write it out. Say everything you’d want to say without fear that someone is going to read it and judge you. Doing so can help you clear your mind and make you feel freer. It opens you up to meditation and writing your story.

To be honest, I usually find myself relaxing so much with the guided meditation, that I just fall asleep. As someone who struggles with sleep, I’m not going to complain about that. I’m quite new and rusty with it, but meditation has already started to help with my depression. I hope it helps you as well.

If you have any meditative practices you’d like to share, post them below!

Finding the Inspiration to Write

Inspiration.

It’s both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes inspiration can strike at the most inopportune moments (showering, driving, working), yet when you need it, it’s nowhere to be found. How do you find it? Where do you go to encourage your muse to start spinning intricate sentences and plots?

Instagram user @mybookstoredk asked about my inspirations, so here are a few things I draw from to get the creative juices flowing.

Reading: This is likely a no-brainer. The whole reason I write is because I’ve fallen in love with books and authors. You’re supposed to read books in your genre to help motivate you, but sometimes I find reading a poem can spark my creativity. Pick up a book that calls to you. I started reading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor when I was having trouble writing and editing. Her style struck a chord in me, and within five pages, I felt myself drawn back to my stories.

Music: Music has always played a big role in my life, which is probably why I tend to spin bardic songs. I grew up listening to musicals and movie soundtracks. When I was five, I could tell my mother exactly what was happening in The Little Mermaid instrumental pieces. Harry PotterLord of the RingsPirates of the CaribbeanHamilton, Cats, Rent…All of these movie or musical soundtracks help spark my muse. I can imagine scenes between my character during certain songs. The emotions imbued by the music encourage me to get into characters’ heads or sense their feelings. If you’re stuck with writing, take a favorite soundtrack and listen to it. Find the songs that remind you of your characters. Create playlists, so when you get stuck, you can turn to that specific playlist to find inspiration. I have one called “Whispers” that’s over an hour-and-a-half long!

Nature: Honestly, going out into nature inspires me. I get away from technology and enjoy the peace around me. No twitter or facebook notifications. My head can sound pretty loud at first, but as I focus on gardening or walking in the woods, getting back to my roots you might say, I create images for my book. That’s all I focus on, and nothing else distracts me. Plus, the fresh air is pretty nice for the soul.

Visiting New Locations: Changing scenery can inspire me. I have three writing spots at home (the aviary, my kitchen, my living room). Shifting from one location to another can put me into a better mindset to write. Right now, I’m sitting at a pub working on this entry, listening to the ambiance of music playing, people chatting, and glasses clinking while cars and motorcycles roar past me outside. It’s so much different from the silence at my house, or my birds chirping.  Going to new cities, parks, restaurants, anything can change your perspective and put you in a different mind to write. If you don’t know what to put on paper, then start making a list of the things you see, ear, smell, taste, and feel. It’s a great sensory exercise at the very least.

Other Authors: Many people say that the publishing world is competitive, and in a way that’s true. But it doesn’t have to be. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. One of the best things about being part of a writing community is meeting other writers and sharing in their successes. Celebrating each other is invigorating. When I watch my friends and fellow writers publish their books, that inspires me to work on my own craft! The whole reason I finally decided to publish The Purple Door District is because my friend Alexandra Penn had the courage to put her heart and soul in print with her series The Letter Mage. I wanted to be brave like her and feel joy and satisfaction at finally putting a book out there. Not to mention I have a story all about community to share. Don’t see other authors as your competition, but rather as friends, mentors, and inspirations.

These are just a few things that spark my muse. What things inspire you? Feel free to share them, and any topics you’d like me to write about, below!

Happy writing!