How watching the creation of music influenced my writing process

I come from a musical household. My father is a self-taught guitarist, bass player and singer. Mom played the organ. My younger brother played the drums and is currently the lead guitarist in a band. My sister has an ear for piano even though she never fully developed her skill. As for me? I crashed and burned on all musical endeavors. Guitar, clarinet and hand bells all fell prey to Ms. Tone Deaf. And singing? Only if I want to torture people.

My childhood was spent listening to my father play church songs on Saturday nights and rock on Fridays in the garage. I’ve yet to hear his current band play, but based on the number bookings, I have no doubt that he’s good.

From listening to my father write music as a child, I learned that a song contains multiple parts. A song can sound fantastic, but if the lyrics are horrible, I can’t get behind it. That doesn’t mean every song needs to be meaningful. Katy Perry’s California Gurls has more plays on my iTunes and iPod than I know of and it doesn’t contain some deep philosophical message. The opposite is also true. Horrible notes can ruin wonderful lyrics. The same idea applies to writing. Throwing a group of great characters into a poorly told story results in a disastrous tale.

Just like a good song, a novel can only be great if it contains all the necessary parts. Each author has his own system to create his story. I’ve never been a fan of outlines. I’m more of a list type of girl. Plot, characters, timelines and other details find their way onto slips of paper. One of my notebooks contains one page for each of the players and the murdered victims in my novel. Eye color, age, family and other details fill the page.

Some form of planning necessary to ensure that the novel contains all the parts. It’s far too easy to miss a major detail that could be detrimental to the tale. Flipping through notes during times of writer’s block or before writing can help keep facts fresh.

My dad tends to record first rather than write out the sheet music as my brother does. He’ll go back and listen to the song repeatedly, making notes on how to tweak it. I have a similar process with writing. I don’t plan everything out in the beginning. I start writing, make changes to the lists and then reread. As I reread, I make corrections. It probably seems disorganized to some, but the system works for me.

Even though music played an important role in my upbringing, I don’t have a writing playlist. The decision of what music to listen to while writing is based on mood rather than the writing itself. I can’t think of many songs that I’ve paired with a particular character. The main character in my novel, Lucy, doesn’t have a song that fits her.

Months ago, I met a songwriter who is at a similar state in his career. We compared the frustrations of wanting to create something that reaches people to the realities of life. It’d be nice to spend all day, every day writing novels or songs, but other obligations can interfere. Last I heard, he had several booked shows for the spring.

Music and writing often go hand in hand. Acting as an observer to the creation of music has influenced how I write and structure stories. I may not be able to hold a note, but I’ll always remember the sounds of a new song coming to life.



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