When it comes to writing, I have a specific process. That process is, in fact, that I don’t reallyyy have one. I’m a notorious headlights writer, but I’m also a diehard perfectionist. If you know anything about those two qualities (or have them yourself), you probably understand how not knowing exactly what comes next in your book conflicts very dramatically with being a perfectionist. What do I mean I can’t make my first draft perfect!?
When it comes to music, I have a specific process as well: listen to things that sound good and make my ears happy. More often than not, the songs I like have lyrics that I can sing along to or hum when I’m driving or write dramatically in the margins in a notebook or post on Twitter causing everyone to think I’m super complex and deep and cool. I’ve pretty much always been this way. The only times I’ve voluntarily listened to instrumental music is (1) at the dentist, (2) on hold, (3) while grading papers when I was a teaching assistant, (4) in a movie/TV show. With this vague familiarity with instrumental music, creating an all instrumental playlist would be…an event.
Lately with my writing I’ve been trying to do something different—it’s still pretty much headlights writing, but with a twist commonly referred to as “plotting.” Younger Meg would have said, “Plotting? Ha! I laugh in the face of plotting! Hahaha!” As older Meg, I knew my current work in progress was going to need something different. The story felt different, so I decided I owed it to actually plan out at least five or so scenes ahead.
You might be wondering what in the flip flop my writing process has to do with instrumental music.
Truthfully, plotting out a book feels like an intense workout. It’s tough and messy, and, like a workout, I feel better after I’ve done it. Forcing myself to come up with instrumental songs that I enjoy, that make me feel things was hard, like really really hard. (A handful of the songs on the playlist I created make me tear up for various reasons—an incredible feat FYI if you don’t know me very well.) But what plotting and working outside of my musical comfort zone have in common is that they force me to think—yes, like actually to think, and specifically to think creatively. (I know, I’m also shocked.)
If we never try anything new as writers, how are we supposed to get any better? If we don’t try working on that fantasy novel or if we don’t at least try writing in third person, then what? Challenging ourselves to think outside the box is part of our job as writers, and I’m never satisfied with complacency. There is always more room for all of us to become better writers, better listeners (to music or to people). Exercises like “Christine—” Hi Christine “—wanted me to make an instrumental playlist for the blog, but I don’t really listen to instrumental music… Uhhhhhhh” becomes an opportunity for me to expand my library of music and to revisit some music I do love that I haven’t listened to in a while. I had to think in a way I wasn’t as comfortable with, but it ended up getting my creative blood pumping.
Thinking in different ways can be a good exercise, so here are 10 fun creative exercises you can do to flex your own creative thinking skills:
- Listen to a genre of music you enjoy, but do not often listen to, e.g. instrumental, ha ha ha.
- Write a short story based on a writing prompt, e.g. write 300 words and start with this piece of dialogue, “No, I thought we weren’t taking the dolphin along.”
- Read a book in a genre you don’t frequent, e.g. fantasy if you read contemporary or vice versa.
- Watch a fine cinematic masterpiece like MULAN and just cry in order to to release toxins, e.g. “Boohoohooooo! But wow, the world building and character set-up that they do in the first half hour is great, huh?”
- Cook a new recipe that you find on Pinterest or wherever people used to get recipes before that site existed, e.g. cook…books?
- Take quizzes as your characters, e.g. Buzzfeed, you need to know what kind of pizza toppings your main characters are based on their zodiac signs.
- Play the “what if” game and write statements like, “What if my main character didn’t say yes to this plot thing,” e.g., put your character in a box, put that box inside of another box, mail that box to yourself, when it arrives, smash it with a hammer—it’s brilliant, maybe even genius. Or you can try to save on postage.
- Draw, paint, color—anything artsy, e.g. paint and wine nights if eligible or interested.
- Move somewhere new, take a trip, go for a walk, e.g. Maddy’s post from February 21, 2017.
- Make a list where you have to come up with ideas that other people might find useful, e.g. this one.
My point is that we should all try not to shy away from things that might be difficult or challenging. Creating my playlist was difficult, but I’m really pleased with how it turned out and I wouldn’t have that feeling or the playlist had I not taken on the challenge. In the same way, if I weren’t trying something new with my WIP, it might have been put on the back burner or in the trash completely because I didn’t want to ruminate on the story.
If a process doesn’t end up working for you, that’s okay! I haven’t gone over to the plotting side of writers and I’m not banned from listening to music with lyrics again. It’s okay to dabble and to find out whether something new works for you.
Ultimately? Push yourself. You might be surprised with the results.
WBP Collaborator Playlist: