advice, music, and getting out of your (mind) house

In another burst of catching up with entries that have been written in my mind, but not on paper… I saw a short interview with author Charles de Lint on the Horror Channel around Halloween.

There were a couple of things he said that I thought merited repeating.

When asked about tips for writing, he offered two:

1) At the end of a writing session always finish in the middle of a scene, or even a sentence, in order to kick-start the flow of words the following day.
2) Create a playlist of music that your major characters like, and play it while you’re writing.

The first point is advice I’ve heard several times, but the second one is an angle on the music playlist idea that I hadn’t thought of before. Composing a music playlist for a character would be a nice bit of background research, and playing it while you write would be a simple way to evoke that personality in your mind.

Like a lot of writers I listen to music while I write, but often I pick a particular style to create a rhythm to my writing, not necessarily to evoke a mood. For instance, I mentioned some time ago that I found listening to fast dance music invigorating while I was writing–especially with a strong cup of coffee fuelling the creative engine. Other times it’s too invasive, and I switch to something more atmospheric.

I have over 110GB of music on a computer hard drive, which is categorized in different ways. I can either queue specific music to play over the speakers in my office, kitchen, or living room, or select a genre and allow it to play random tracks from that selection. If I don’t want to disturb anyone I can always plug my headphones into my laptop and access the musical library from there, or use my MP3 player.

The advances in technology unnerve people at times (myself included), but I tend to embrace the changes where they make our lives easier, or fulfil it in unexpected ways. Music has always been an important part of my life, and it definitely feeds my creativity. There are many things I could forgo, but music is not one of them.

One other opinion that Charles de Lint expressed was interesting to me: he stated that he was completely against the teaching of writing. He felt that the best advice he could give a writer was to read as much as possible.

Charles is not alone in his attitude of course. My opinion is less hardline.

There is no right (write) way to learn to write. Some people cannot bear instruction in the craft of writing. They prefer to learn in their own fashion. That is correct for them. Others respond very well to a structured approach, and can advance their understanding from a course, or university programme. This is the right way for them to progress.

I’m not prone to making didactic statements. The only thing I know for sure is that the more you write, the better you get. Maybe you could benefit from a course (if so, choose wisely and get a recommendation), or perhaps that’s the worst thing you could do, but I don’t think it hurts to try and learn from as many different sources as possible.

Personally, I’ve learned a great deal from the interaction of fellow writers. Reading other people’s work, and listening to their thoughts on my efforts, has elevated my understanding of the practicalities of writing. So my only other piece of advice would be to try and find a community of writers (either physical–the best option if possible–or online) to join so you can share your work and interact with them. The social aspect alone will be a huge benefit.

Writing is a solitary business, and it’s fantastic to find physical company other than the thoughts in your own mind. Two highlights of every month for me are the meetings with my screenwriting group. On Friday we’re having a Christmas party. As a freelancer, who spends too much time in my own company, this is a wonderful event. (I bore me at times.) I’ve been looking forward to it since I heard it was happening.

I hope all of you have similar social outlets planned for this festive season. The holidays can be a trying period, and we all need to cut loose every now and again.

Hug a writer this holiday season. We need it.