Imagination with a cool soundtrack

I love music, I make films with music, I eat with music, I sleep with music, I think with music. Music makes me dream; it strengthens my creativity — Bahman Ghobadi

It’s no secret that music plays a big role in my writing when it comes to my projects.

I can’t write in complete silence. I may write in silence if there is something I need to concentrate on but once it’s figured out, the music goes back on. Music inspires me. I know there are people who need the quiet to flesh out their ruminations. And I know there are people who can’t quite figure out how to include music as part of their writing process, uncertain as to how it imparts inspiration upon a person.

Music as a source of inspiration for any creative endeavour I take on, is an intangible in the sense that I couldn’t possibly explain coherently, how it affects my writing. Having something speak to you in a meaningful, bone-deep way goes beyond words in any language. Trying to describe it will only leave me grunting, growling and swearing in an attempt to convey how powerful music has been in my writing process.

The music I listened to when I was writing the first book is vastly different from what I am listening to for the current writing project. Obviously, it has a lot to do with the storyline and the characters. And by the time I finish writing the first draft, the playlist, the soundtrack — which is always fluid — will change again. Not drastically, but enough to be noticeable.

My characters heavily influence what I listen to. I do not deliberately decide what song ends up on my writing /playlist soundtrack. It’s organic. A lot of it comes from accidental discoveries. You know the scenario — you hear something either on the radio, in a store or in a restaurant, etc., that grabs your attention and you need to know the name of the musical piece and the artist who performed it.

Glimpses of the characters’ personalities and the scenarios they find themselves in, are reflected in the music. It may also reflect secrets they keep that are yet to be revealed or may never be told. In their own little way, the characters tell me what they like, what moves them. No, they don’t tell me in fully-formed sentences what kind of music they’re in the mood for, what music best represents how they roll or what they’re about to roll into. That would be too easy and no fun. If my ears perk up, it’s because my characters’ ears have perked up, too. Their reaction to a piece of music is all the information I need on whether or not it becomes part of the playlist.

Kinda like tuning into their brain wavelengths through osmosis because you don’t see a dial anywhere that you can adjust.

In the last three weeks, aside from writing and figuring out what additional research needs to be conducted, I’ve started listening to Spotify. It’s not an endorsement. No money has been exchanged to mention them. Spotify is just a way to discover music and artists I haven’t heard before or rediscover music I had long forgotten.

It’s great because I get to be more fluid with the writing playlist. I’ve created a playlist on Spotify where I can create a ‘soundtrack’ for the book. I like to amuse myself.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I think cinematically. But I don’t know if write cinematically, I think I do. But that would be for the person who reads my stories to decide. First and foremost, I am a visual person. And I guess it makes sense that the stories I want to tell, play themselves out as movies in my imagination.

An imagination with a cool soundtrack.

All lit up

The one thing emphasized in any creative writing course is ‘write what you know,’ and that automatically drives a wooden stake through the heart of imagination. If they really understood the mysterious process of creating fiction, they would, ‘You can write about anything you can imagine’ — Tom Robbins

If I consistently followed the mantra ‘write what you know,’ I’d be pretty fucking boring as a storyteller. The mantra is without a doubt, a good place to start when figuring out what it is that you want to write. And it is a great place start if you want to figure out the process of writing and to just start writing.

The phrase popped up ten months ago while having drinks with my best friend and a mutual acquaintance of ours. The acquaintance was curious about my writing so I explained what the first book was about in a rough-and-tumble kind of way. Then I gave him a quick and dirty pitch describing what my next writing project would be about. At the time, it was roughed out in my mind but I gave him the gist of it. He responded by asking me if I was supposed to write what I know, not what I just told him. His initial assessment of me never prepared him for what came out of my mouth. He was utterly befuddled much to my best friend’s delight and amusement.

I have never taken a creative writing course. I don’t think my lack of being formally educated in the art of storytelling via a college course or some sort of university degree makes me less skilled at it. Wait, does double majoring in English and Political Studies count for something? Maybe not.

To be honest, I’ve seen some of the requirements needed to enter master programs for creative writing. No, thanks. Never mind the ‘write what you know’ mantra driving a stake through the heart of imagination, those masters programs will do it for you… well, me for sure. It would have just filled me with self-doubt while I despised my perceived inadequacies as a writer. I know how much angst I can handle. I don’t need anybody deciding for me what I can or can’t handle. Or what I can or cannot write.

I’ve UN-intentionally avoided pursuing a diploma or a degree in creative writing because it was never the path I needed to get where I am right now. Where I’m at right now, is at the cusp of something amazing, creatively and personally. It’s something that been gestating for a long time. It started before I gave writing a go. It picked up a little steam when I wrote my first book. It started accelerating with the two characters (affectionately referred to as ‘my boys’) I’m working with now. I can’t remember the precise moment when they came roaring into my life, upending a previous story idea and planting themselves firmly in front of me so I couldn’t see anything else but them.

That upended story idea hasn’t been tossed aside. It is something I will return to explore. There is a reason for the switch-off. I think I know what it is. When the timing is right, I will revisit those characters and explore them again.

And as if my boys weren’t pesky enough with their poking me and wanting to play in the now-too-small sandbox of imagination (they now live in a hut with a fire pit by a beach), my field trip back in late October turned up the heat a little more. The boys were excited as hell by the research. I could feel their energy thrumming.

You know that carnival/exhibition ride operator who asks you if you want the ride to go faster? It seems I have been saying ‘HELL YA!’ a lot along with my two boys in the last couple of months or so. I must be some sort of closeted adrenaline junkie. I don’t get my kicks in the most obvious ways. The boys make it known that they’re in my head 24/7. When I’m not paying attention to them, they’re always there. Oddly enough, they’re not annoying. I enjoy their company regardless of the shenanigans they insist on exposing me, too. They’re quite shameless when it comes to grabbing my attention. I find it impossible to hate them. They love being around me. Te amo y más. That phrase pops into my head a lot. Some could argue that they love being around me too much.

While I might be a closet (maybe ‘latent’ is a better description) adrenaline junkie, I do think something is awakening in me that has long been dormant. Things have become clearer with regards to who I am, who I need to be. I’m sure how it ended up being dormant. Maybe, I just needed to get to a point in my life where it was the right time to come out of its slumber.I attribute a part of the awakening to the political disaster unfolding in America, one which threatens what stability there may be in the rest of the world. A tangible sense of activism has been awakened. And I’m figuring out how to express it. The expression isn’t looking to be deafeningly loud. It’s just looking to be duly noted along with all the other voices out there.

Being just a drop in the sea of humanity, I do have a sense of what I can do. I can’t explain it right now. It’s something I feel. And it’s taking me somewhere I need to go. It starts with the personal choices I make in how I live my life and who I want in my life. And it also starts with the stories I want to tell.

The stories I want to tell will represent who I am. I don’t think I’m a writer whose subject matter necessarily appeals to the masses. Being something to everyone is a straight jacket I don’t care to slip into.

Last Wednesday, I came across something that piqued my curiosity and now, it has me excited because it’s a story idea (in its most fundamental elements) I want to explore after my boys and I are done playing together. Although, I don’t think the three of us will ever leave each other. Will this new story idea become a novel? Probably, considering long-form writing seems to be my jam. I haven’t put a ton of thought to it yet. But it’s an idea I find fascinating. But I don’t want to create any characters for it until I do little more research on it.

And speaking of research, I’m hoping to do more field research in the near future with someone I consider a really good friend. The biggest obstacle will be finding time from our busy schedules to get this research done. Yes, I’m being vague again. Mainly because what I want to do, might raise a few eyebrows except for the ones who really know me. They’ll just think to themselves ‘why am I not surprised she’s going there?’ As for the others who don’t know me all that well… let’s just say they may have reason to be a bit wary around me. I say that with a semi-evil grin.

I have been fortunate enough in the last few months to find, encounter and be surrounded by individuals who inspire me just by being themselves, who accept me and my foibles. And in that time, I’ve also been lucky to discover things that have set my imagination on fire. Not the kind of fire that burns hot, blindingly bright and quickly dies. It’s the kind of fire that burns slow with a hotter-than-warm glow and doesn’t seem it will ever fade away.

Comforting yet energizing. Perfect and seductive, especially at night.

Space and shape

In many a piece of music, it’s the pause or the rest that gives the piece its beauty and its shape. And I know I, as a writer, will often try to include a lot of empty space on the page so that the reader can complete my thoughts and sentences and so that her imagination has room to breathe — Pico Iyer

I’m not sure whether any of my writing has included a lot of empty space on the page so a reader can complete my thoughts and sentences. Do I want them to complete my thoughts and sentences? I don’t know. I’d prefer they come to their own conclusions about what I’ve presented them. I don’t see the point in telling the reader to finish my thoughts. I don’t think that’s part of how I define my job description. I could be wrong, though.

But I do whole-heartedly believe in giving a reader’s imagination room to breathe, or at least let them catch their breath (if you know what you’re doing, of course). I believe that is part and parcel of letting a reader come to their own conclusions.

While empty space isn’t exactly on my mind when I’m staring at a blank page, I do think about pacing and intensity — when to find the quiet moments, when to ramp things up, when to hold your breath and when to breathe. Dynamics, not monotony. I think I have natural ebbs and flows in my storytelling abilities. It’s not something I overthink. I’m not sure how successful I am at it, though. Haven’t heard any mutterings on that front. Not yet.

When I think of empty space, I tend to think visually and aurally. I understand it when I see and hear it in a film. It is also something that can be felt and tugs at your emotions. Moonlight does that for me.

Words can’t describe how that movie has affected me. Everything about that movie is perfection. I say that because of how it pulled me in from the first scene, right to the last words spoken in the film. I gotta tell you, those last words were so powerful, honest, vulnerable and heartfelt enough that it made me cry sitting in the theatre.

There are very few films that have the evocative power to move me this way. In fact, I can’t think of another film that has done what Moonlight did to me. I tend to go for the wild ride, the hold-your-breath type of films. Moonlight is it for me. It is one of those gems that you find once, maybe twice in a lifetime. Writer/director Barry Jenkins knows how to use empty space. You see it in the cinematography. You see it in the actors’ eyes and their physicality. You hear it in Nicholas Britell’s music score. You feel it in the dialogue. It’s inspiring. It has stirred something in my soul and it demands to be expressed or manifested in some way in my own life. It’s a process. I’m going to let it play out. I look at it with curiosity and embrace the possibilities to come.

If I can convert a small fraction the empty space I see in my imagination and shape it into something beautiful and, maybe, transcendent, into words the way Jenkins converted words into visuals for Moonlight, I will be one very happy camper.