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Posts Tagged inspiration
I’m finding it so curious to see how many novelists in this series are inspired by Bruce Springsteen. He’s probably not the kind of artiste people would imagine if you mentioned using music as a muse to write, but he’s behind so many characters and character dilemmas. My guest this week has compiled writing soundtracks ever since he was at school, and still keeps mixtapes from that time. He revisits them occasionally out of amused curiosity, and says that Springsteen gave his characters a gritty humanity he couldn’t otherwise have found. Decades on, he’s using soundtracks just as much as ever – sometimes not to write, but to fill himself with the book’s mood before he sits down at the keyboard. He is Will Overby and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, Benny Goodman, Brett Rosenberg, Bruce Springsteen, characters, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, Fix and Finish With Confidence, friends, Gyorgy Ligeti, horror, horror novels, how to write a horror novel, how to write a thriller novel, how to write a zombie novel, I’m On Fire, inspiration, Julie London, Kryzysztof Penderecki, male writers, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, soundtracks, Springsteen, The Dream, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller novels, thrillers, U2, undercover soundtrack, vodou, voodoo, Will Overby, writers, writing, writing to music, zombie novels, zombies
My cover designer, Frazer Payne, is as adept with words as he is with images. As we were fine-tuning the cover of Lifeform Three, he said to me: ‘I don’t know how you get a book finished. I have all these ideas but my imagination’s like a rope that frays into too many ends.’
(You see what I mean? He should definitely write.)
‘Do you make notes?’ I asked.
‘Yes, but when I look at them they’re dry and dull.’
Aha, my friend. You’re making the wrong kind of notes.
The wrong kind of notes?
Years ago, I used to keep a dream diary. I found it a few months ago and expected the entries would be indulgent nonsense, without the meaning, resonance or early-morning mind that makes a dream a good experience. But no; in those fragments the experience came back, just as odd and wondrous. Now I’m not going to bore (or scare) you by quoting one here, but what I will tell you is why they still worked.
They were written with a dream-head. They captured experience as well as logic and explanations.
What’s this got to do with making notes?
In Nail Your Novel (original flavour), I wrote that you should keep your earliest draft. If a scene has lost its sparkle, look back at the first time you had a go at writing it. Yes it will be shambling and embarrassing, blurted onto the page. But it will also contain emotional language, straight from the things you were feeling as you discovered it. This is the freshness and immediacy that can disappear with editing, or when you try to refine, get formal or explain.
It’s also the quality that can disappear when we write notes after a brainwave.
So when I write down an idea, I make sure I include this raw response. I write them as a stream of consciousness, like a dream. Because that’s what comes to me first: the certainty of what I want the reader to feel. If possible, I’ll also keep a talisman that will allow me to replay it again, and indeed might have been the initial inspiration – a scene in a book or a film, or a piece of music. (We know all about that here, with our Undercover Soundtracks.) There will be practical elements too, so it’s not complete gobbledygook – eg ‘man sees woman in coat that’s just like his wife’s, assumes it’s her and follows her’, but those look dry when you read them in isolation.
Stories are emotional. You want to make sure your notes help you remember the impact that made you so excited, as well as the hows and whyfores.
Do you find your ideas have dried up and died when you read your notes? Do you have any tips for keeping it? Let’s discuss!
Psst… My second novel Lifeform Three is coming very soon. It’s a fable in the tradition of Ray Bradbury. If you’d like to hear as soon as it’s released, sign up for my newsletter. If not, as you were
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I’m a 15-year-old high school student whose biggest dream is to be a writer. I’m a good writer, but there’s nothing special about my writing. I was wondering how I could start to practise my skills and to become better over time? How did you start off? Also, I have absolutely no idea how to start a novel, even though I’ve tried for years
What a lovely question. Let’s tackle it in stages.
It can’t be rushed
First of all, don’t be in a hurry. Styles don’t develop overnight. They soak into you from your reading. Which leads me to…
What are you reading?
You also mentioned in your email that you read a lot, but how varied is your diet? Are you sticking to just a few genres, eras, styles of writing? These will colour the way you express yourself and may limit you if you don’t cast the net as wide as possible.
As well as fiction, read poetry, and notice how words are more than just their literal meaning. Become fussy about nuance, moods, resonances, flavours; the mischief in ‘twinkle’ versus the hard edge of its cousin ‘glitter’. Relish the variety our language gives you.
Learn what you are made of
So how will you be distinctive?
Like analysing a compound in a chemistry lab, we learn what we’re made of from the things we react to.
What are the styles you like and why do you like them? Ditto for themes, characters, settings. Do you like the unconventional? Is there a genre that pushes your buttons (I’ll include literary fiction here for the sake of argument)? These will become part of your writerly signature.
When you’re with friends, notice what’s distinctive about the way they talk and think. How is that different from you?
Here’s another point. What do you want to do to readers? Unsettle them, amuse them, tie their brains in knots, awaken their political awareness, warm their hearts, chill their marrow, stir them with ambiguities, distil the human experience, resolve their troubles? All of these? These intentions – whether in an article, short story or a book – will be a hallmark of your style.
Try lots of ideas
Every now and again you’ll discover someone who blows a hole through your idea of what good writing is. Let it tenderise you to new influences; soak it up and see what it shows you. Try to emulate it, if you’re so inclined. It doesn’t mean you were wrong until this moment. Mimic their rhythms, their sentence structure, the types of things they would notice. Enjoy the workout. After a while your new passion will wear off and you’ll regain a sense of proportion. That doesn’t mean you’re lost again. You’ll have added a few genes to your writerly DNA.
How long does it take?
Our style develops through our lives. Some writers become distinctive early. Others blossom later.
Most of us don’t stop wishing we were a bit more special, or perfect. Every year, we might think we’ve finally ‘found it’ and chafe at the work we can’t undo. Evelyn Waugh often said he thought Brideshead Revisited was gluttonously overwrought.
I started by apeing other writers I adored. As a teenager, any good book would send me scurrying to my room to try a new voice or story style. My typewriter got a lot of exercise. After college, I began to try novels and I went through a very visible (to me) Graham Greene phase, then Vita Sackville West, then Jack Vance, then Gavin Maxwell. When I read those writers I could think of no more perfect way to express a story.
One day I realised I didn’t feel I had to imitate any more. I could write as me and that was okay. That doesn’t mean I am no longer poleaxed by Graham, Gavin, Jack or Vita, or all the other thousands of writers in whose company I take pleasure. I still learn from them, all the time. But I no longer feel the need to eradicate and start again.
This is personal, but for me, special writers have a quality of honesty on the page. It makes me comfortable in their company; willing to travel with them, to accept their voice as the companion to my own thoughts. Read good non-fiction and notice how authors do this, how they burrow for the truth even while they amplify, assert or exaggerate. Three of my favourites for this are Verlyn Klinkenborg, David Sedaris and Gavin Maxwell (I told you I liked him). Aim for that candid quality in your own work, even when you’re trying on other tics and techniques.
Some people just plunge in and write, muddle their way along. Clearly that hasn’t worked for you. In which case, are you looking to prepare material before you write? I have a book that will guide you through… (all together now…): Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books & How You Can Draft, Fix & Finish With Confidence… (now recommended by university creative writing departments, which is nice)
What would you tell Lindsey? Let’s discuss!
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I first discovered this week’s guest when a Google fairy revealed she’d written a novel about reincarnation and music. I had to try to recruit her. She turned out to be even more suitable for the series than I could have guessed. Her mother was an opera singer. She wrote her first novel to help her son understand the stories of his ancestors in China through connections to music. Her second novel deals with ideas of past lives and ethnomusicology. Her name is Denise Kahn and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
ancestors, authors, books, China, deepen your story, Denise Kahn, entertainment, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, google, having ideas, how to write a book, how to write a novel, ideas, inspiration, music, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, novels, Peace of Music, publishing, reincarnation, romance, Roz Morris, self-publishing, Split-Second Lifetime, The Undercover Soundtrack, timebending, undercover soundtrack, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing life, writing to music
My guest this week grew up on classical music. Childhood piano lessons inspired her latest novel, Feral Youth, about the relationship between a troubled teenager and a piano teacher. One pivotal scene came while she was listening to Wagner; the surging music seemed to insist she create a dramatic bonding moment between her two principals. She herself is no stranger to drama; she made her name with a semi-autobiographical novel about life in London’s Square Mile, then famously went indie because her publisher, HarperCollins, tried to brand her books as chick-lit. She is Polly Courtney and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, Childhood piano lessons, classical music, deepen your story, entertainment, Feral Youth, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, HarperCollins, having ideas, how to write a book, how to write a novel, inspiration, London riots, music, music for writing, musicians, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, novels, pianist, pianists, piano teacher, pivotal scene, Polly Courtney, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, The Undercover Soundtrack, troubled teenager, undercover soundtrack, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing life, writing to music
I’m thinking about this because the other day I heard an interview with the British actor Peter Bowles. He explained that much of the time in acting life, he’d try to second-guess the director. When his character seized a sword or opened a letter, he’d be trying to figure out how the director wanted him to do it. Partly this was survival – after all, he wanted to be hired again. And he had a team player’s instinct to collaborate and please. However, he was aware that he was missing a fundamental connection – with the author of the text, and what they wanted.
But, said Bowles, this all changed when he put on a mask. Yep,. he couldn’t see the director any more but that’s not as fatuous as you think. It narrowed his awareness to just him and the text. And then it was as if all doubts vanished; the white noise of other people disappeared and he was suddenly certain of the emotions and truth in a dramatic moment. He knew, from inside, what to do.
It strikes me that writers spend a lot of time second-guessing. We’re surrounded by muddling influences. What’s popular in the market, what our favourite authors recently did. Suggestions from our extended writing family. Even, requests from our readers.
Writing has never been so connected. We can bust out of isolation, join social writing communities and cheer each other through Nanowrimo. As soon as a chapter leaves the brain, we can offer it for comment if we wish. Oh I’m not saying it isn’t fantastic to have support and guidance. If I disapproved, I’d hardly bother you with my weekly volume of bloggery. I love the world wide web of creativity we have. But no one knows a work’s bones as well as its creator. Are we taking enough quiet time to discover its deeper, instinctive truth?
I think there’s a part of writing that cannot be social. It must be done alone, unplugged and in a safe space. That’s how we strike out and find true inspiration – for the direction of a story, the meaning of a setting, the innate humour in a scene. It’s how we develop instincts we can rely on and a voice that’s indubitably our own. It’s how we become original and authentic.
Like those actors, there are times when we need to put on the mask and see what we find.
TINY NEWSFLASH Continuing the theme of creating our own space, I’ve revamped my author website with a new design and some extra pages, including Why I self-publish and a picture tour of my writing process.
Let’s discuss in the comments: Do you take time to retreat with your work? What do you do to cultivate your writer’s instinct?
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My guest this week began using music as a sanctuary in a busy, rumbustious house. But she soon found that the music was having its own inspirational influence. For her unconventional romance novels she finds rich emotions in the music of Enya, Enigma and Clannad, which also complement the settings of her native Snowdonia. A bereaved character was embodied by an album from Sarah Brightman; a male protagonist was found in The Kings of Leon. Wait – a romance novel with a male protagonist? Well, I told you she was unconventional. She is Jan Ruth and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
arts, authors, Celtic music, Clannad, contemporary romance, deepen your story, drama, Enigma, entertainment, Enya, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, how to write a book, how to write a novel, inspiration, Jan Ruth, Kings of Leon, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, North Wales, publishing, romance, Roz Morris, Snowdonia, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Wales, Wild Water, writers in Wales, writing, writing life, writing to music
I’m rather fond of Jan Garbarek and Aphex Twin, and I’m delighted to see them working their influences on my guest this week. A crime novelist, she gathers soundtracks to make sure her stories stay true to the mood she has envisaged for them. She looks for music with a sense of tension, loss, instability and says that Garbarek in particular tells her stories – and even gave her a title. She’s also spent years searching for a very influential novel she read as a teenager. If you can identify it, she might send you a special prize (although she might be joking). She is JJ Marsh and shes on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack. PLUS you could win one of her novels …
authors, crime fiction, crime novelist, crime novels, crime writing, current-events, deepen your story, entertainment, Fix and Finish With Confidence, having ideas, how to write a book, how to write a novel, inspiration, JJ Marsh, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, novels, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, The Undercover Soundtrack, Triskele books, undercover soundtrack, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing life, writing to music
Wherever you are, you can be at the Edinburgh ebook festival. It’s a two-week programme of online bookish events starting at 11am every morning with a short story and rolling on until 11pm with reflective conversations about reading and writing. That’s 11am BST, Being Scots Time. There are author events, residencies where writers discuss issues for publishing and creatives, workshops and a daily sheeping forecast. When in Scotland…
Each night at 10pm I’m providing the music via selected reruns of The Undercover Soundtrack. So here I am, explaining to what an Undercover Soundtrack is and what listeners can expect. Do come over.
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‘The more I wrote, the more my novel seemed to vibrate with meaning and questions. I found these fascinating but they could have drowned the book, whereas most of all I wanted to tell a mysterious story. It was music that kept me straight.’
Today I’m at Writers & Artists, talking about a subject that will be somewhat familiar to regulars here – writing with music. They were fascinated by the concept of Undercover Soundtracks, and asked me to explain to their readers.
(And would it be gauche of me to do a happy dance because my creative salon is being featured on Bloomsbury’s writing blog… Look where you might end up if you start a series just because you want to. Have a great weekend. x)
authors, Bloomsbury, characters and music, deepen your story, entertainment, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, ghostwriting, having ideas, how to write a book, how to write a novel, ideas, inspiration, interview, literary fiction, literature, music and setting, music and stories, music and writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, novels, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, using music to create a character, using music to write, Writers & Artists, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing life, writing to music
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Connect with me here too
As @NailYourNovel I post 4 to 5 useful writing links per dayMy Tweets
Off duty I tweet as @ByRozMorrisMy Tweets
- ‘The thoughts start flowing again’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Will Overby December 11, 2013
- From ‘To do’ to ‘Done’ – confessions of an organised author December 8, 2013
- ‘Music to make a creative space’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Kirsty Greenwood December 4, 2013
- How to write down story ideas so you can remember why they were brilliant December 1, 2013
- Could The Undercover Soundtrack help you reach readers? Post at the Alliance of Independent Authors November 30, 2013
- ‘Sex, drugs, metaphysics and rock’n’roll’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, David Biddle November 27, 2013
- How do I develop something special in my writing? November 24, 2013
See what I did there…