Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guest Post by K.D. Lovgren

These are the things I tell myself while I write a novel. This is my wiser self, speaking to the one who flails about and doesn’t believe. This is what works for me. Want to eavesdrop?

Get in the bubble. The bubble where you can get lost in another world.

Go to a music service that lets you create a playlist. Think about the scene you want to write. Choose a playlist of a bunch of songs that create the mood you want for that scene. Name the playlist your story’s name.

Put in the earphones. Press play.

Open writing software. Hold the scene in your head, the one that inspired you, that bit of dialogue or image of a character or location. Begin writing out of the mood inspired by the music and the image in your head.

Is the music not jibing? Go back and mess with the playlist. Get it right.

Each story, sometimes even each important character, might have a different type of music.

Get to the place where you’re not thinking about what’s next. Get caught up in a tide of movement impelling the story forward, effortless and in the dream.

This is the shift from the analytical mind, the critical mind, to the freer-flowing, associative brain. Shed the to-do list, the thoughts of others, anticipation and regret, and live in a present that allows the story to take over. It’s a pleasurable state, but that’s an afterthought. It’s being suspended in time, in a state of flow, as described by Milhaly Csiksentmilhaly in his book Flow.

Let the story lead you, instead of pushing it where you think it should go. When you have to force it, over and over again, butt your head against character and plot issues, you’re not letting a deeper knowledge take over, the part of you that knows better than your everyday self. Take off the daily thinking cap. Access the deeper fount of creation.

If you need a reassuring voice, remember the books that helped you get a feel for what is necessary:

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

Remember the ingredients for that atmosphere of creation:

A comfortable chair with lower back support and an ottoman to put your feet up. A place to rest your elbows while you type.

A playlist which creates a mood for what you’re writing. More important than lyrics or type of music is the feeling it creates when you listen to it.

A pleasing spot to rest your eyes when you look up from the screen.

A drink to hand, tissues, lip balm, etc—whatever means you won’t have to get up unnecessarily and break the dream.

That’s it.

With that, you’re ready to fly.

When you get to the editing phase, remember well. This can be a treacherous swamp, with many “fool’s self-chosen snares.”

Back story, cut it out. Too much exposition, cut it out. Stuff you needed to know to write the story but the reader has no need for, cut it out. When in doubt, cut it out. Sentences that you think are lyrical masterpieces, cut them out.

Be wary of what you love as much as what you loathe. Therein is the tricky balance: you must be dispassionate, as an editor of yourself. You must cut out like a surgeon those parts that your instinct tells you do not belong. You must have a longer vision, not the close-up worriting of the copyeditor, but the long-sighted view of a detached observer.

You may hate your work, at this stage. You may hear a voice that says it’s stupid, juvenile, embarrassing, and pointless. Do not listen to that voice. That voice is as untrustworthy as the one that tells you it’s wonderful. Ignore the hyperbole on each side and continue to be the dispassionate god of your world, doing only what is necessary.

Let go of perfectionism. Professional will suffice. The perfect manuscript is by its nature unpublished. Give your work. The circle is complete when the story is re-created in the mind of the reader: a collusion between writer and reader. Let it go so you can get the gift back in what you learn from giving it.

K.D. Lovgren is the author of novels Sea Change and Photographic.


Gary Ponzo said...

I couldn't agree more. I actually wrote a blog post back in May 2010 titled "The Cure for Writers Block--Music." It absolutely works.

Anonymous said...

Love this! Brilliant in its simplicity and truth. Great post.

Unknown said...

Just what I needed to pump up my output since I haven't found the "productivity pills" Joe must be taking.
Haven't tried the music approach. Maybe you have a list of music for each mood, character, location, danger, romance, etc. you could share.
Maybe I could submit my scenes to "create for the day" to a "writers DJ" and get back an MP3 track ready for my writing day all labeled with tracks per... Kinda like the piano player tracking action in the old silent movie days. How about a "writers jukebox" where you punch in the mood and the music plays, until the villain walks in and you punch the villain button, then a hero button, etc. A new business is born!
The mind wanders. Back to writing!

Mario Jannatpour said...

Love this!! I listen to music all the time with headphones. Last book I got into a groove listening to two songs over and over.

Great point about creating a feeling.

I will come back to this post.

Thank you :)


Shaun Horton said...

I've always found that music helps me zone out, leaving the physical world behind to focus better on the story. I even went on youtube, found all the songs on there and made a playlist there to share with other people what I listen to.

Unknown said...


Thanks for the writing advice.

Joe and Tracy,

Congratulations on the publication of "Jacked Up!". Best of luck with it.


Alistair McIntyre said...

I might listen to music before putting pen to paper, but I can't concentrate on writing worth a damn if I'm listening to anything with lyrics.

Valerie Douglas said...

My husband read 'Flow' and it helped him understand my process better. (And helped our marriage *laughing*

Merrill Heath said...

Music often helps me get in the mood for writing or inspires me as background for a scene.

The best advice is in regard to perfectionism. I was talking with a friend of a friend a few weeks ago who is writing a novel. She's been working on it for 3 years. She actually finished the 1st draft over a year ago. But she can't let it go. She keeps tweaking it and fiddling with it.

I asked her if she throught she was still making improvements and she said yes. Then I asked her if she thought the improvements she was making would increase sales more than if she'd spent the last year writing another book...or two.

She'd never looked at it from that perspective.

s said...

Hi K.D.,
Interesting post. I wrote one this week inspired by the new movie Gravity: if you're in space, you can't hear other people screaming. For me, quiet is best for my writing. I used the analogy of Neil Diamond writing "A Beautiful Noise"--how could he write that song with all the cacophony going on?
When I'm editing (copy editing--I do my content editing as I write), I often put classical music on in the background--that improves my analytical, logical thoughts. BTW, writing is a mix of analytical and whatever you called the other--otherwise you couldn't put words on the page!

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

It makes good sense to "stir" the creative juices from inputs that are not directly involved with the work in progress. Since music can be an emotional stimulant, and good fiction writing involves emotion (under professional control of course)it is a good idea to have some background sounds in addition to the tapping on the keyboard. But the creation of atmosphere doesn't necessarily do anything for sales, does it?

iolanthe said...

Thanks for the comments. I find music is a fast and powerful way for me to switch from real-life mode to fictional-world mode. It wouldn't work for everyone, I well believe, but it's been very helpful to me and I thought it might prime the pumps of some other writers who feel distracted by the outside world.

Personally, I can't listen to music while I edit in the final stages. It takes a different kind of concentration.

Jeff, I think your idea about a writers' DJ is a cool one. It would be nice to submit a scenario and get back a set list!

Merrill, I've seen it happen with good books, too, being mired in the perfectionist tendencies of the writer. One person I know rewrote a project for fifteen years. An extreme example but it happens.

W. Adam, I agree creating atmosphere while you write and sales don't have an obvious connection. Unless the atmosphere is what helps you become a better, more focused writer. Down the road it might pay off.

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Anonymous said...

You all sound like you'd like Booktrack (, which lets you incorporate the creative magic of music into your readers' experience. Check it out!

kathie said...

Brilliant. Just what I needed to hear.

Nigel G Mitchell said...

I don't know if I could write with music. I'll give it a shot, but I'd have to find music that fits the mood I'm creating. I always found Stephanie Meyer and other authors who release playlists for their books a great promotional tool and a way to connect with readers into an auditory way

Steph said...

Thanks for this post! This describes my writing process exactly. I couldn't write anything while I was in college and then a year after I graduated I still didn't so 3 years away from my finished first draft and I'm trying to get back my "writing flow" but it's been hard.

Especially since I'm in editing mode and the magical part is the first draft part. When I'm in tune, the characters are sitting next to me, telling me their story and it hardly seems like work at all.

Henri said...

What's a gust post?