Tag Archives: music

The Daily Grind

I’ve been working diligently on The Lords of Askalon this past week, and I’ve learned something that I suppose I should have learned a long time ago…or perhaps I’d just forgotten it since my frantic dissertation writing days.

There’s just no replacement for honest hard work when it comes to writing.

I’ve called this post “the daily grind” for a couple of reasons:

  1. Sometimes writing is a grind.  It doesn’t come easily.  Every word has to be squeezed out, like giving blood when you’re dehydrated.  But daily is the operative word: it doesn’t matter whether it’s easy or not.  It must be done.  Must.  Daily.
  2. I don’t know about you, but the phrase “daily grind” also conjures up the lovely image, experience, and smell of freshly ground and brewed coffee.  And so take this meaning away as well: the daily grind of writing may be hard, but there’s reward at the end of it.  A completed page…ten pages…a chapter.  A step that much closer to your goal.  And that is a sweet thing indeed.

How can you make your daily grind resemble #2 more than #1?  Here are a few of my favorite tricks to force motivation and enthusiasm when you’re running on writerly fumes.

Assemble an awesome writing mix of music.  I am seriously contemplating putting together a “soundtrack” for The Lords of Askalon – songs that inspire me to work on this story, right now.  Just like every movie has its own score and soundtrack, every novel does too.  Find music that inspires you.  (I’ll have to explore this idea further!)

Set a time of day when writing rules.  For me, this has to be the littles’ afternoon nap time, and my older kids are (thankfully) enthusiastically supportive of my escape to the office – partly because they want me to hurry up and finish the book so they can read it.  No matter when it is, make sure that your backside is in front of the computer at the designated time and write.  Do your best to eliminate distractions (read: social media or that search for writing music) and crank out as much as you can.

Don’t worry about quality control right now (or, don’t listen to your gut).  Unless you’re in the finishing stages of your project and editing is your new daily grind, just write and worry about smoothing things out later.  It can be hard, especially when your gut tells you that this isn’t your best work.  But I’ve found that sometimes my gut does a great job of killing my writing enthusiasm and dragging me down into the maelstrom of self-criticism and self-pity.  Tell your gut to take a hike, and listen to your music instead.

Find a writing buddy and set some goals together.  I am so thankful all the time to have J. Leigh Bralick for my writing buddy – she keeps me on track, and we inspire each other to work harder and write better.  If you don’t have a SisterMuse or writing buddy already, check out Camp NaNoWriMo (the summer version of the official NaNoWriMo in November), which is going on right now.  If that’s not what you need, there are many online boards devoted to writing.  Local writers’ groups are also an option, if you prefer warm bodies and live conversation to messaging and virtual comradeship.  When you putter out, call or message your buddies and let them help you get up and running again.

Bottom line: Writers write. We don’t just talk about writing or whine about writing or dream about writing (though we may do this too).  If you want to be a writer, then write!

(This post is also up on my personal author website – head over to skvalenzuela.com and check it out!)


Paying Attention

Well.  I don’t think I need to point out that my last post was for the New Year.  *cough*  Things never do slow down, do they?  Sometimes, just when we hope we’re settling into a nice rhythm, life has a way of raising a maelstrom around us.  I had all manner of good resolutions about keeping current with this blog and everything else.  Hey, I even wanted to have a real website up and running in January.  I haven’t even had a moment to spare for working on that.

At any rate.  That’s not exactly what I wanted to write about today.  I actually wanted to write a little about what goes on inside a writer’s mind, because, somehow, I get the feeling that writers have a tendency to see the world a little bit…differently…than other people.

Artists see the harmony of shapes and colors, the contrast of lights and shadows, the perfect composition of a scene.  Musicians hear the melodies in everything, the poetry in speech and emotion, the movement of harmonies that speaks a language more subtle than words.  (To take a peculiar and crazy fun example of this, go watch a few of Pogo’s musical compositions. I recommend this one – Kadinchey – in particular. This amazing musician has the uncanny ability of hearing the song in everyday speech and sounds. Very cool.)

Anyway. So, artists have their way of seeing the world, and musicians have a way of hearing the world. And writers, well, writers have a way of writing the world. It’s sort of a constant internal process (and it can be kind of annoying when the inner writer doesn’t know when to shut her mouth).  Everything we see and experience, the wheels are turning in our heads — How would you describe this building?  What color is that, exactly?  What kind of physiological feeling am I experiencing, exactly?  

That last one is the one I — in a weird sort of way — enjoy a lot.  Maybe this is disturbing, or maybe it’s neat, I don’t know, but when I’m writing, I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can cause myself to feel most emotions my characters experience.  Of course, emotions come with physiological effects.  Fear makes your skin prickle and your heart race.  Sorrow, longing and regret give a twisting, tugging, sick ache in the heart, while the throat burns and the whole body stings.  Realization of something terrible makes the blood drain away, slow or all at once.

The really, really strong emotions are harder — overwhelming, paralyzing terror, for instance — but the others are relatively simple to conjure up.  Then I can sit there and analyze the physical sensation and say, hm, well, this isn’t exactly a chill but more prickly and creeping…how would you put that into words?  Or — Yes, when you’re scared, everyone knows your heart pounds or hammers.  But how else can you describe that sensation?  What new words can breathe life into old metaphors?

The world is full of things that need writing.  For example, when the sun has set, but before the blue dusk covers the sky, what color is that?  Like in this person’s amazing picture — that color there behind the clouds?  Is it purple, really?  Is it really blue?  To me it feels silver-blue.  When you hear the sound of a strange bird, like this, do you just say it’s a bird call?  Maybe a bird song?  But is that really what you hear?  I heard this the other morning, maybe at 5:30 or so?  There must have been thirty birds calling back and forth with this song.  I listened to it trail away into the distance, and knew it was a goose call.  Canada goose, to be precise.  But how do you describe it?  It’s not your typical goose honk.  There’s a haunting, clarion quality to it, something that evokes the call of horns and bells.

I guess all this is to say that, when you want to write, the first rule of writing visual, visceral narrative is to pay attention to the world around you.  Now, can dramatic descriptions be overdone, dripping with the amethyst grandeur of verbal luminosity?  I.e., can it become purple prose?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Writer Beware.  But sometimes the best way to imbue real depth, feeling, and vividness into your writing is to learn how to overdo it first, and then learn how to apply it tastefully later.

Think of how a pianist, just learning, will play all songs either sforzando or pianissimo.  All transitions will feel abrupt and artificial.  But slowly, they will learn to be subtle, applying just the right dynamic shifts to delight without drawing attention to its skillful use.  This is the goal for writers, too, to become in some way invisible, to let the writing speak as subtly as a breeze.  As you read, you feel, and see, and smell the world of the novel, and your stomach tightens with the hero’s fear, or turns to butterflies with the hint of new love, but you don’t really pay attention to how it happens.  If you go back over and read again with an eye to the actual writing style, maybe then you’ll be struck by the lovely turns of phrase or elegant metaphors.  But they’re not purple.  They don’t beat you over the head with how brilliant they are.  They’re just there, like the world.

Writers — pay attention to the world around you.  Write everything you see and hear and feel, at least in your mind.  Then you can better create new worlds where the reader can live…without even realizing they’ve been transported.


The Muse is a Musician

<J. Leigh sneaks in, stage right…>

Ahem.  Well, I’ve been a bad SisterMuse for….well…a really long time now.  So here’s a little post to hopefully catapult me back into Responsible Blogging….

“Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus’ son, Agamemnon…” (The Iliad)

“In the beginning Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Ilúvatar, made the Ainur of his thought; and they made a great Music before him.  In this Music the World was begun…” (The Silmarillion)

The ancient poets had it right.  The muse of story-telling is a singer.  She’s a musician.

For Tolkien, the very story of the cosmos springs from music, when the Ainur sang all things into being.

And while Mendelssohn may have figured out that you can have “A Song Without Words,” I don’t know that you can have “Words Without A Song.”

Well, that sounds very nice…but what do I mean by it?  Is poetry only poetic when it is sung?  Is prose only proper when it has rhythm and melody?  No.  Not really.  Of course, for much of human history, I’d wager, story-telling was done through the medium of song.  The bards and skalds and scops and jongleurs of old knew that if they wanted to impress their stories into their listeners’ minds, the surest way was to sing them.  Something about music stirs a deeper part of the soul than words alone.

When I was younger, I briefly met a profoundly gifted cellist.  He was a wild child, spirited, with a startling naivete and a baffling, intense passion for his music.  Minutes before taking the stage to perform, I found him hanging from a tree, tie loose, pant-legs rolled up, long dark curls all in a mess.  Seemingly out of nowhere he said, “Did you ever notice how when you finish reading a book, the music stops?”

I’ve never forgotten those words.   Because they’re true — but also because I’d never even realized it.

I don’t really know what gives some books that music.  I definitely know that not every book has it…and I also know that the books that lack it leave me strangely dissatisfied.  I don’t know if it’s the mediocre plot, the dull, flat characters, or the bland scenery that drives away the music, or if it’s the lack of the music in the first place that makes a story so lifeless, but either way I find silent stories are bloodless, tired, bereft of inner light…. Dead.

I was going to write about ways we can think about music in story…but I think I’ll stop here for now, and come back to that idea later.  🙂