What is your author playlist when you write?
Being a professional musician for over 50 years, it would certainly be hard not to have a song or tune going around in my head as I write. When I write I usually do so in the comfort of my car, with a cup of coffee or a scotch, depending on the time of day. No, the car does not leave the driveway. In the car, I use my Ipad as a writing instrument and have my music play in the background creating soundscapes that appeal to me. Usually, I listen to non-vocal jazz or the piano music of John Tesh or William Joseph.
“Standing the Storm” by William Joseph was the main theme going around in my head as I created If’s final scene in New Orleans and Michael W. Smith’s “The Blessing” was mainly responsible for the ending.
As a writer, I feel it is much more important to conjure a tear through the written word, than it is to get every English professors’ version of tense and grammar perfect. While these things are very important to make the reader’s journey more pleasurable, I prefer to make the reader somewhat uncomfortable by generating heartfelt emotions whether producing tears of joy or sorrow. Tears are the acid test in my stories.
An interesting footnote is that this book, If, was originally titled Run to Me. The whole story unfolded as I was riding down the road and this old Whitney Houston song came on. The visions filled my head and tears began to flow. The book began. However, once I started writing, Bread’s song “If,” one that I had performed numerous times, became the prevalent theme and, therefore, the title.
Spencer’s Two Cents:
I like that my Dad just said he prefers to make the reader “uncomfortable.” One of my favorite writing professors, Dr. Don Secreast, told me once that it’s way more valuable to create awkward tension in your writing than dramatic tension. So, for instance, there are scenes in If where some evil is looming, but the reader isn’t exactly sure what. This creates suspense and disquietude, but the beautiful thing about it is that this tension seems to creep up on a reader. I love that. When I read some of Chuck Palahniuk’s work (he’s my original writing guru) I’m often uncomfortable before I even know why–that to me is an invaluable skill.
Ok, I know this blog is about music, but that was such an interesting idea that I just had to comment on it. In my solo writing, I usually have a dedicated playlist designed to help me contemplate the themes of what I’m writing. This actually started years ago when one of the true loves of my life made a mixed CD for me. I was writing my undergraduate honors thesis, a novel called Wrestling with God, and she was helping me proofread, revise, and actually had a seat on my committee. Scandalous, right? That, as my Dad loves to say, is another story for another day. But, for now, I can tell you that she was intimate with the work I was doing and crafted a CD with mostly songs I’d never heard that all hit on some of my themes in a meaningful way. I can’t think of a way to fully describe how valuable that mix was/is to me. So, moving forward, I always made writing playlists. Hilariously enough, I didn’t for when I revised If! I did start listening to some of the songs Dad recommended–I wanted the music he was hearing and inspired by to serve as the thematic forefront. But, for the most part, to make the collaboration fluid, I let Dad’s original words be the music that guided me. I searched in his rough drafts for some clues, some themes that could be brightened or repeated or re-cast in some way. And I think it worked pretty well.
But! This would be such a let down of a blog if I didn’t give you a sweet playlist, right? So below is the track listing of the Wrestling with God CD that DJ Alana B made so many years ago. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Wrestling with God Playlist
1. Sometime After Midnight – The Airborne Toxic Event
2. I Wish I Felt Nothing – The Wallflowers
3. I Taught Myself How to Grow Old – Ryan Adams
4. Innocence – The Airborne Toxic Event
5. Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars
6. Natural Blues – Moby
7. Astronauts – One Eskimo
8. Two – Ryan Adams
9. When I Dream of Michelangelo – Counting Crows
10. Hold Me Up – Live
11. La Cienega Just Smiled – Ryan Adams
12. Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect – The Decemberists
13. Walking After You – The Foo Fighters
14. Butterflies and Hurricanes – Muse
15. The Distance – Evan and Jaron
16. Jeff Buckley – Lover, You Should’ve Come Over
17. Blackout – Muse