Monday, June 12, 2017

The Playlist Process

I have a slight problem with the manuscript I’m working on.

It isn’t related to plot; I feel like I’ve got the mental outline pretty much put together, leaving enough room for the story to continue evolving as I write. It isn’t really about character, either; even though this story has a lot of characters, I have a decent grasp on who each of them are, who they’ll become by the end, and how they relate to each other. The problem definitely isn’t about voice; that’s coming through well so far, maybe because I’m allowing myself to write with a voice I’ve wanted to use for a long time, but haven’t found the right project for until now. 

My problem is I still haven’t put together a writing playlist.

Now, do I need a writing playlist for this? Thankfully, no. The story is coming along surprisingly well. Would I like to have a playlist providing the soundtrack for this journey? Most certainly yes. Finding the right music has always been an important part of the writing process for me. I wrote my first manuscript while listening to nothing but the same thirty Bruce Hornsby songs on shuffle, usually during the time of day when light from the sunset poured in the front windows and filled my house, just because all of that gave me something close to a tangible expression of the tone I was trying to create. I wrote another manuscript mostly after dark with all the lights off, listening the scariest Iron Maiden songs I could find, as well as a few others that matched up with that creep factor. One year during NaNoWriMo I had a playlist of over two hundred songs that dripped emotional catharsis, to help me get in the head of a character pulled in nine different directions by everything she was struggling to understand. I’ll use these songs and the feelings they inspire to guide my voice, and, if I’m being honest about it, to help visualize what it might be like if, say, my story ever became a movie and needed a soundtrack. After all, isn’t a good part of the writing somehow tied to trying to live out hopes and dreams and speculation?

Truthfully though, I’ve never needed much of a reason to assemble playlists. I’ll put them together for road trips, or school work days when the students aren’t around, or to have playing in the background when I have guests, or even just because it feels like a day to listen to nothing but music released between 1997 and 2004. Applying this hobby (habit?) to my writing seemed natural.

Back before I found my way to the online writing community, I thought it was mildly self-indulgent to be so insistent about finding the perfect music to pair up with whatever I was writing. Then I started connecting with other writers, and discovered many had similar habits. A lot crafted playlists just as I did, but others didn’t stop there: They made Pinterest boards based on what their characters looked like. They compared different aspects of their characters to other well-known characters from books and movies and TV shows. Some even tried matching up settings with appropriately scented candles. They had favorite locations to write, rituals and routines they followed, and reward systems to keep themselves motivated. It seemed that nearly everyone populating this magical online writing domain was, in one way or another, searching for and leaning on the same kind of creative self-support I had been using all along. 

That discovery made my propensity for playlists seem, if anything, less like an idiosyncrasy and more like a legitimate part of the writing process, at least for me. That circles back to the simple truth that everyone approaches their writing differently, and whatever process works for each individual is just as legitimate as anything else. 

Of course, this still leaves me working without a playlist for this new project, or even any first steps in the direction toward finding one. I still have a long way to go though, so I know the right songs will eventually present themselves.

I’m just really looking forward to finding out what they’ll be.

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