Tuesday, February 19, 2008


“So every day that I work, I begin with probably an hour of going over the material from the day before or maybe even going back two or three days.” (Ann Packer, in an interview with The Writer magazine, February 2008 issue)

At the risk of being presumptuous, I will guess that every writer has their own version of the electric starter—that certain something they use to get the creative juices flowing before they sit down and write.

I’ve read where some go for a morning jog. It helps them to think, they say. There’s no blank page staring them in the face, no blinking cursor impatiently tapping the monitor. It is just them, the fresh air, the sound of birds waking up, and anything else God’s creation has to offer. If I was stupid enough to try this, however, I know there would be a long pause after the first hundred yards, assuming I can make it that far. Both hands will lock onto my knees. I will find myself bent over, gasping and wheezing, certain that harp music (hopefully) should hit my ears in the next moment. You see, I’m more of a put-the-key-in-the-ignition type of guy, and my physique is the visible representation of my faith and allegiance to gas-guzzling automobiles.

Other authors have reported how they read lines of verse every morning. It is in the way that poets see the world around them—the fresh ways they can explain their human condition. Writers look to poetry to unlock their muse and free up their own expressions. They use verse as a springboard to launch some of their own original ideas. While I don’t do this often enough, I can honestly say that I like some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Admittedly, though, I struggle at times with understanding what he wrote. And reading some of his plays? My experience is that a Shakespearean play is like reading a four-hundred-page novel. With all the time spent looking at the footnotes, and pulling out dictionaries to discover the definitions behind all the uncommon words, it takes just about as long.

And then there is music. I’ve delayed this posting because I know somewhere—either in an interview or in his book, On Writing—Stephen King has said that he likes to listen to music. And though I spent a week trying to remember where I read it, I couldn’t find it. This week, then, has been like looking for that all-obscure passage in the Bible. You know it is there; you just can’t remember where. So, dear reader, you’ll have to take this at face value for what it is: my memory, as solid as melted butter at times. What is Mr. King’s taste? Heavy Metal. Somewhere, I recall him saying that he likes to listen to AC/DC, which isn’t a bad choice for someone who writes the kind of graphic fiction that he has penned.

And now we get to the whole inspiration for this posting. In an interview with Writer’s Digest, Christopher Moore was asked whether his novel, Demonkeeping, was the first book he wrote, or just the first he sold (June 2007 issue). “The first I finished,” he responded.

As I look forward into 2008, this is the year that I want to write my novel. I have started at least a half-dozen works; and, like the Christopher Moore’s experience, all have petered-out within the first few chapters. My problem? That nasty, but extremely long, middle. I know where my characters start. I know where I think they will finish. It is connecting the beginning and the end that always trips me up.

Last month, while helping out with some of the household chores, I plugged in my I-Pod earphones and started listening to Pink Floyd’s classic recording (and in my humble opinion their best), Wish You Were Here. It was in the way the first track started—the soft, melodic and yet mysterious tones. Suddenly, one of my short stories came to mind. It was a piece that I had never finished, one that was another potential victim of my inability to get through the middle. But there, in the midst of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part 1),” I found my lead struggling through the desert, his body racked with pain, his mind almost gone, and his passion for revenge, not to mention his quest for redemption, unsatisfied. As I listened, I watched as events quickly played out. I knew what he was after, and I could see how he might go about resolving his issues. I guess you could say I saw the beginning, the middle, and the end. By listening to one album (yes, I am old enough that I still call them albums), my mind shifted its focus. I started out thinking I would write one man’s story, and have come to find another’s story more inspiring.

So now what do I do? Every morning, after I have forced myself out of bed—after I have opened the back door to let the dog out, and then put on a pot of coffee—I sit down, plug the earphones in, and key up Pink Floyd on the menu. I listen to the music once again to remember all the scenes that played out in my mind that first time. Then, I turn to the computer, read over the previous day’s work, and click away at my next scene. As the Doobie Brothers once put it: "Listen To The Music."


  1. Come on you raver, you seer of visions; come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!

  2. I'm with you on the music being my muse... my characters have their own 'songs' I use to get into the mood to write their scenes. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Floyd, and make references throughout my novel (my protag sings DARK SIDE OF THE MOON to his beloved Phoebe).

    I'm into Radiohead now, their latest IN RAINBOWS which is absolutely brilliant. It's helping me frame PURE, novel number 2.

    Goodluck with your novel writing -I'll be back to check your progress.

    Super 6S in Contest #3 - you got at least two votes (assuming you voted for yourself!). Peace, Linda

  3. Tammy: I see you are a Pink Floyd fan, too. For me the whole project (Wish You Were Here) is the smoothest thing that PF has ever done. The way each piece transitions to the next is brilliant.

  4. Linda: Thank you for your support on the 6S Contest. Just FYI: I have another piece that will be published by 6S on Monday, 3/17. And yesterday, I submitted a third piece to Robert, which we'll find out whether or not he thinks its worthy. I've got my fingers crossed.

    I appreciate your insights on how you work music in to add flavor to your characters. It's interesting how music can affect the writing process.

    Finally, I'll try to post updates on my progress with the novel as it continues to evolve.

  5. Interesting post, Stephen. I love the phrase "electric starter." What does it say about me that I instantly think of coffee?

    If you're wondering, my starter is going over previous work, just like Ann Packer. I find that helps me slide back into my narrator's voice.