Listening to Music While You Write – Yes or No? (Plus Listening Resources)

earbuds musicWhether music helps or hinders writing and which music makes the best creative soundtrack are two perennial debates among the members of my writing circles. Some of my fellow writers are diehard devotees of tuning into a writing playlist, extolling the virtues of music to inspire and guide their writing. Others, at the opposite end of the spectrum, eschew music during their writing time, considering it a distraction that actually blocks or at least slows their creative flow.

Personally, I am conflicted on the topic. I love music. I love to sing and have even done so publicly on a few occasions. I have soundtracks for different times in my life – Pat Benetar and The Police for a particularly turbulent time in my teens; Kate Bush, Squeeze, and ELO for the slightly less angst-ridden years; and then – skipping ahead – K.T. Tunstall’s Eye of the Telescope for the long, slow demise of my marriage. This past weekend, my beau and I celebrated seven years together to a newly discovered Lyle Lovett channel on Pandora. Five hours and two bottles of wine later we were still exclaiming over the songs – old favorites and newfound delights – that Pandora’s magical algorithm pumped into my living room. Memories in the making.

But, when it comes to writing, I have never mastered the ability to listen to music passively. Maybe it’s my tendency to sing along. Though I have become quite adept at working through all kinds of other background noise – coffee shop banter, road traffic, the antics of my ten year-old – music tends to demand my undivided attention, therefore leaving me unable to string words together in a coherent fashion. Even classical music is too emotionally distracting for me. I have tried writing to Vivaldi, Mozart, and Bach, but their music tends to sweep my mind off the writing task at hand.

My inability to blend two of my favorite pastimes – crafting stories and listening to music – leaves me fascinated with people who are able to combine these two activities with great success. Some writers create whole playlists for a writing project, assigning songs to certain settings and characters. Some people can only write to instrumental music while others seem unfazed by having lyrics in their ear while they put words on the page. In Music to Write By: 10 Top Authors Share Their Secrets for Summoning the Muse Steve Silberman includes a link to a really interesting music video featuring a live performance by Steve Reich titled Music for 18 Musicians:

A music site called 8Tracks includes an entire section dedicated to “Writing Music.” I have to admit that I enjoyed the sample I listened to on the For Writing Dark Fantasy playlist which included, amongst other things, “Steampunk Orchestra.” Who knew?

Then there’s a site that will turn your mood into music. Stereomood translates your statement of mood into a playlist designed to evoke related emotions. You can type in almost anything: “I feel tired,” “I feel mysterious,” “I feel sunny day,” even “I feel piano.” I got a kick our of the “I feel magical” playlist.

A lot of my personal writer friends rely on Spotify to create their writing playlists. This popular music curation site is also cited in a series of annual “Best Writing Music” posts on GalleyCat (via MediaBistro). The Best Writing Music of 2013 is quite an extensive list.

Exploring these kinds of music curation sites, I can definitely see myself tapping into their lists to get myself in the right mood for a certain story or scene. Music is a powerful environmental element. Movies use music to wrap us up in the story, drawing us in and along by tugging on emotional chords. Perhaps we create a similar audio world for ourselves and our stories. Even if the actual notes don’t wind up on the page, perhaps there is an echo of the music in our words.

Though I still cannot listen to music “straight up” while I write, I will definitely experiment with pre-writing music to help me set the mood. I also sometimes use Coffitivity to get some music in my ear without distracting myself too much. I discovered this ambient noise app a little over a year ago and continue to use if fairly regularly. One of my favorite ways to use it is to “muffle” music that I’m streaming via Pandora. By adjusting the volume controls on each of the audio streams, you can create a blend of music and background noise that suits you perfectly. The combination that works best for me is mostly Coffitivity with just a touch of music.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: photosteve101 via Compfight cc

Resistance

I’m listening to the book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne, and I find it very interesting. Mr. Pressfield talks about the resistance every artist has to manage in order to get his or her work done in the world. He equates resistance with fear, self-doubt, self-sabotage and every other thought, belief, feeling, or action that stops us from getting to work.

While listening, I started to think about Deborah’s recent post to this blog: Be Boring, and Julie’s response post, A Different Color Refrigerator.

It struck me that Deborah “combats” her resistance to her creativity by cultivating an orderly life that allows her plenty of time to write. Julie deals with her resistance by cultivating a multi-faceted but balanced life that includes writing.

How do I deal with resistance? Mostly by managing my mind. Starting with the old saying, “The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”

When I let my mind go wild, thinking fearful thoughts about my work in the world and my writing, I get nothing done.

Who can get anything done when they are thinking thoughts like these?

  • I don’t have time to get anything done.
  • I have nothing to say.
  • No one wants to hear what I have to say.
  • This is drivel.
  • Why bother when so many others can do it better than you?

I start by questioning each thought. When I do, I find that none of the above thoughts are really true. Some of them go away as soon as I really look at them, others take a little more work.

I believed the thought: I don’t have time to get anything done, for many years. But when I examined that thought, I noticed it was ridiculous. I’m getting something done all the time, even if it’s just typing this sentence, or making a sandwich, or reading a book.

I did a bunch of experiments to see how much I could actually get done in 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour. I was continually surprised by how much work I got done, no matter how small the window of time I gave myself.

So now I routinely think: I have time to get something done.

When I manage my thoughts about my writing, I decrease my resistance (my fear) and I’m better able to sit down in the chair and write, even if I only have 15 minutes or half an hour (which is almost every day). Some days I have many 15 minutes or half-hours to write and they add up to an hour or more, but only if I use each one, rather than resisting the urge to write and squandering that time on something less dear to my heart.

How do you manage your resistance?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother and stepmother. I’m enjoying each 15 minute segment of time that I get to spend working on my craft. Even if I do it in 15-minute increments, it will eventually add up to 10,000 hours! Check out my life coaching blog to see what I’ve come up with during some of those hours.

 

The Writer’s Creative Cave vs. The Big, Wide World

groundhog

It’s ok. Come on out!

Most of the aspiring writers I know wish they had more time to write. Their lives are busy, full of obligations and responsibilities. Practicing the writing craft is a luxury that gets tucked into the odd corner of the day, early or late and most often stolen.

My life is much the same and I bet yours is, too.

I make my living as a freelance writer, but my creative writing lives the life of a small, tenacious beast – always hustling and hoarding minutes, fiercely defending the small oases of available time like the precious territory they are. This clever little critter knows that sometimes you have to go underground to get things done, make yourself a hidden haven where you can do your work without interruption from the siren call of worldly duties.

But, sometimes, your creative creature needs to come up into the light. Sometimes, the best thing for your wild writer’s soul is to be in the world, enjoying the moment in the company of others.

I recently met a friend for coffee. We’d been trying to get together for something like six months, but the stars never aligned. Last week, I saw her in the parking lot of the grocery store and impulsively suggested a get together later that week. By some miracle, everything worked out and we were able to keep our date. It was wonderful. We sat at the small table with our steaming mugs and it was three hours before we looked at the time. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

Just this morning (when I was meant to be writing this post), I had an impromptu conversation with my dad. I talk with my mom most mornings, but my dad is a night owl and not usually ready for chatting until later in the day when I’m all tied up with being a mom. This morning, mom was out so dad answered the phone. We wound up having a great conversation about life, reality, real estate, parenting, and half a dozen other topics. I hung up feeling energized and optimistic.

Each day, I spend some portion of my work day engaged in digital conversations with fellow writers in a private Facebook group where we discuss everything from how to price a particular kind of writing project to which Hollywood stars we think are sexiest. These random conversations never fail to make me smile, even when they are distracting me from my work.

But, that’s kind of the point. These conversations, these relationships are not just distractions from the work … even the Important Work of writing. These moments and hours of time spent in the light – in the world – with our fellow human beings are food for our creative engines. Though writing is a solitary pursuit, it does not flourish alone in the dark. Yes, we need time to craft and create, but we also need to spend time living. Hemingway, I’m sure, would agree.

You need time to write. I understand. You might feel guilty for taking time away from your writing to meet a friend for coffee, indulge in a long phone conversation, or muck about with “frivolous” online conversations. Don’t. Remember that art and life are inextricably connected. You cannot have art without life; and a life without art, for a creative soul, is not worth living. Think of your time spent above ground and outside your creative cave as refueling. I cannot yet even capture all the inspiration my recent conversations have provided – ideas, characters, stories. I feel like my store of creative energy has been replenished. And what a wonderful way to refill the creative well – spending time with beloved friends and family, figuring out – together – this crazy thing called life.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: qmnonic via Compfight cc

How to Be Creative in 5 Steps with John Cleese

creativity fun

By charity elise on etsy

What is the secret to being creative?

Is it something you can learn? Is it something you are born with? Is it something you can practice? Is it something you can do on demand?

These are questions that plague artists of all kinds. We worry that we’ll never be creative, or – if we’ve had a creative breakthrough – that we’ll never be creative again.

I worry. You worry. Famous writers and artists worry. We all worry.

BUT … we don’t have to.

I spent part of this morning watching a video of John Cleese presenting on the topic of creativity. (Hat tip to @anna_elliott for her post on Writer Unboxed featuring a link to the video.) Cleese’s presentation is nearly forty minutes long, but SO worth the time. I really (really) would love for each of you to watch it because I think it will make you feel relaxed and excited about being creative (instead of anxious and freaked out). But, I totally get that you may not have a spare forty minutes lying around, so I’m writing this post to share some of my favorite bits from Cleese’s talk.

Ready? Here goes:

Creativity, According to John Cleese

“It’s a mood in which curiosity for its own sake can operate because we’re not under pressure to get a specific thing done quickly. We can play. And that’s what allows our natural creativity to surface.”

Cleese talks about two “modes” of being: open and closed. As you might guess, the open mode is the one in which creativity comes out to play while the closed mode is the one in which we put nose to grindstone.

7:45 – How Being in the Open Mode Helped Discover Penicillin

Cleese tells how Alexander Fleming’s curiosity about an unexpected result was critical to his eventual discovery of penicillin. Instead of simply being annoyed and disappointed that a particular culture did not grow as planned, Fleming followed his curiosity in order to answer the question, “Why?” (Or, in this case, “Why not?”) By keeping an open mind, Fleming was able to see and follow an important clue. Had he been in closed mode, he would have dismissed the missing culture as a failure – within the context of his expectations – and missed an important discovery.

8:55 – How Hitchcock Used Irrelevance to Beat Block

Cleese tells another story – this one about Alfred Hitchcock. Apparently, when he and his co-writers came up against a creative block on a screenplay, Hitchcock had a habit of telling irrelevant stories. This often made his co-writers frustrated until they realized it was an intentional way of lessening the pressure and helping the team relax so they could find a creative solution.

9:34 – Creative Work Requires Both the Open and Closed Modes

Though we tap into our creativity in the open mode, we do need to be able to step back into the closed mode in order to get work done and apply the fruits of our creativity to our work. Once we have come up with a creative solution, we need to commit to seeing that solution through. We need to close the doors on additional brainstorming and so forth in order to take action.

John Cleese’s 5 Steps to Getting into the Creative Open Mode

Cleese then shares what he considers to be the five requirements for increasing your odds of getting into the open mode and being creative:

  1. Space – You need to remove the pressures and demands of your daily grind, seal yourself off, and hang up the “Do Not Disturb” sign.
  2. Time – You need to set a specific start and stop time in order to create an oasis from everyday life – to set your open mode or “play” time apart from everyday life. At 15:22, Cleese makes special note to leave yourself extra time to settle in and switch gears by describing a scene that we’ve all played out upon sitting down to be creative. Very funny. Not to be missed.
  3. Time – Yes, he lists “time” twice. In this second instance, Cleese focuses on the importance of taking as much time as you can to solve your creative problem. Don’t just latch onto the first solution that presents itself – dig deeper. We are tempted to accept the first solution because it’s our quickest way out of the uncomfortable space in which we have not yet solved the problem, but if we hold on a little longer, a better and more original solution is usually just around the corner.
  4. Confidence – The biggest obstacle to creativity is fear. We are afraid of making a mistake, of looking silly. This is why creativity is best fostered in an environment of play – because when you are playing there are no wrong answers. There are no mistakes. Everything is an experiment and anything can happen. As Cleese says, “Any drivel can lead to the breakthrough.”
  5. Humor – Finally, Cleese contends that humor is essential to creativity. He says that it is the quickest way from the closed mode to the open mode. So … stop taking yourself (and everything) so seriously!

The rest of the video includes some additional suggestions on how to keep your mind “gently around the subject” and engage in successful creative play with other people and find new ways to connect disparate frameworks and references in order to generate creative solutions. But, I’ll let you watch those yourself:

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image by Charity Elise on Etsy

Get Focused on What You (Truly) Want

Have you seen the movie Field of Dreams? There’s a voice whispering to the main character (who has a dream) throughout the movie: “If you build it, they will come.”

It’s a step above “fake it until you make it.”

And a couple of steps above visualization.

Journaling at the edge of the water

Capturing my thoughts while sitting at the water’s edge

A great starting point for getting what you want  is to write it down.

You can do this in a journal, or on a computer, or on a chalkboard or whiteboard, or simply on a single piece of paper.

Writing is powerful. Seeing your dream or goal in print in your own words helps you clarify what you are asking for — from yourself and from the universe.

When is the last time you wrote out a detailed description of your dream writing life? If it’s been a while, or never, why not take some time today (Mondays are great days for starting fresh, after all!) to think about what a day is going to be like once you are living your dream.

Some questions to help you get started detailing your ideal writing life include:

  • What kind of project are you working on?
  • Where are you writing? (cafe, room with a view, home, vacation spot, on the beach…)
  • Where do you live?
  • Are you traveling? (perhaps touring your book, or writing abroad)
  • What time of year is it?
  • Are you near/with other writers?
  • How does your day begin?
  • How do you wrap up your day?

Be as detailed as possible. Picture yourself in the moment in time and capture sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and sensations. Whatever makes the moment real to you.

I bet that as you write about what you want, you’ll discover at least one way to start on the path to getting it.

Nothing to lose, but your dream life to gain! If you imagine your dream life, you’re taking a big step toward realizing that life.

My dream writing life includes a water view, walks in the sand, and kayaking at dawn.

Will you give it a shot?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Journaling: A Method for Creative Discoveries

I’ve been a journaler since my first diary as a young girl.

Journaling is a way to get thoughts out of my head and neatly tucked away; a way of removing words/thoughts that distract me. Once I have something written down, I can stop thinking about it and move on.

I have this visual of raising my hand next to my ear, reaching just inside the ear, and pinching the end of a string. When I pull the string, I discover it’s a string made of words. Pulling some words out of my head makes room for others.

Of course, there are some days where that string seems never ending, like those colorful handkerchiefs magicians pull out of a sleeve or a pocket — color after color after color with no apparent end. But there is always an end to the words that need to be cleared away so that new discoveries can be made.

As I browsed through a book store’s magazine section yesterday, I discovered Art Journaling Magazine. It’s a magazine full of examples from visual artists’ journals.

Sketches, multiple colors, ideas, thoughts… Some journals had a bit of a scrapbooking feel, others were done in black and white, most had numerous colors on a page. It inspired my inner muse who loves to find new ways to express myself.

LeatheretteJournalMy mother gave me a beautiful turquoise journal for Christmas. The edge is embossed with a design and each interior page has a light imprint of the design. The color is attractive, the design adds personality, the soft leather-like texture is welcoming, and the pages are spectacular to write on (some paper accepts ink better than others). What looks like a snap cover is a magnetized button closure, and it’s depressed into the cover a bit, so that the journal plays nice if in a stack. There is also a ribbon to use as a placeholder between pages. Everything about the journal is welcoming and comforting and begging to capture words.

ArtistWayMorningPageJournalAnother favorite journal of mine is the actual workbook used for Artist Way Morning Pages. This is a large 8.5 x 11 book, so has heft to it, but it allows for more expansion on creativity with pages. The paper is thick and reminds me, for some reason, of paper I used in first grade when learning to form the letters of the alphabet.

As I flipped through the journaling magazine in the store, a lot of ideas popped into my head about how to add a bit of pizzazz to my journals as I make entries.

I’ve heard a lot about the online LiveJournal tool, too. I’ve never tried it, but I know it allows for more than straight typing of thoughts into the cosmos. And since it’s an online tool, there’s the option to share some of your writing with others. This intrigues me since I could attach photographs to the entries. It’s something I’ll look into. Here’s a listing of those tagging themselves for the writing community.

I believe that any way to clear clutter from the mind to make room for new thoughts is a great exercise.

What is your favorite way to journal?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. Journaling keeps everything in perspective. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Origins of some common phrases

Due to a recent burst pipe in the attic, I had a change to move a lot of ‘stuff’ around in order to make room for ceiling repairs. It’s been like spring cleaning, but in the dead of winter. I’ve made quite a few discoveries as I’ve sorted into a keep and toss piles.

Common Phrases and Where They Come FromOne of my discoveries is this great little book called Common Phrases and Where They Come From by John Mordock & Myron Korach.

I thought it would be fun to share some snippets of phrases I find myself using – and the history behind them.

I start off with the phrase and how I use it. The bullet points are my summaries of the write-ups within the book.

The phrase “all agog” has me seeing someone with mouth wide open in great surprise. It turns out, I’m not far off.

  • Medical practitioners noticed that when somebody was anticipating a great happy event, their eyes became lustrous and animated. This eye condition became “goggling eyes,” and groups of people stood “with all eyes goggling.” Then, over time, the phrase became “all agog.” (Disappointment resulted in “all aground.”)

I think “apple of my eye” refers to the person/people that one loves or cherishes. Children are usually the apple of their parents’ eyes, right?

  • Long ago, people in the medical field closely studied the pupil of the human eye and concluded it was apple shaped. The pupil became known as “the apple of the eye.” Then, since the eye was considered as vital as life itself, the gallant hero began to call his love interest “the apple of my eye.”

Although not one I’ve used, “bandy with words” strikes a chord with me as a writer. How can a writer not love to play with words?

  • Turns out, it basically means to talk a lot about nothing! It morphed from a game called ‘bandy’ (described a lot like table tennis), where opponents hit a ball back and forth until one of them misses. Bandy = hit and miss. And to people watching the game, it seemed pointless (ooh, my own pun!); so bandy eventually became associated with idle conversation.

As a mystery fan, I enjoy “red herring”s in stories — particularly trying to figure out what clues are false. And it’s quite fun as a writer to add them to my stories.

  • Campaigning politicians spend a lot of time focusing on matters irrelevant to real issues. It was first known as “dragging a red herring across the trail” then got shortened to “red herring”. It was also used to describe scholars using illogical points to try to prove a thesis. And it was also used to (literally) describe criminals who used strong-smelling smoked red herrings to cover their scent as they ran from justice. Bloodhounds eventually had to be trained to tell the difference between true scents, and that of smoked red herring.

These are just 4 small examples of the fun with phrases people have had over time.

This is a fun book to read through.

Isn’t it amazing how some phrases have morphed into what we use them for today? I find it fascinating.

Is there a phrase you’re curious about?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.