Anchor Songs

I was talking to a friend this weekend about writing (especially long stuff; novels, screenplays, etc.) and how no matter how much you love what you’re writing, you just lose it 2/3 of the way through. You hate what you’ve done, you hate when you have left to write, and you hate yourself for digging your own grave. Even if you’re confident and experienced, even if you have an armory full of mental tricks ready, you will lose your head for a bit. It’s the worst.

Said friend mentioned a suggestion from Syd Field on how to get through the Trial. (I can’t find a direct quote, so anything I’m getting wrong is 100% my fault). When you’re starting a story, write down what makes you excited about it. Get the Awesome Things in your head down on paper. All the reasons you want to write this particular story. Then fold up the paper, stick it in an envelope, and seal it. Hold onto it until you get 2/3 of the way through and lose your head. Open envelope and let your past self remind you why you set out in the first place.

Great, right? You make a time capsule of all that raw passion and when you need it, you let it out Pandora’s Box style (don’t get all nitpicky about the metaphor, nitpickers) and use the energy and excitement to pick yourself back up.

Obviously, I’ve never done the envelope thing myself, so it got me thinking about how I’ve clawed my way through. I’ve hit the dreaded mid-story freakout, I’ve crawled under my desk, and I’ve somehow managed to dig back out. How? Do I even have a coping mechanism?

I do, of course. Something that got me through both Broken Magic and Mimesis. I don’t think I even knew why it worked or what I was doing, but psychologically, it’s kind of the same thing.

My lifeline is music.

There are always one or two songs that end up on repeat while I’m getting the story in my head. I throw it/them on, pace around my room (or maybe dance; yes, dance), and try to really visualize and feel the thing I’m working on. Images pop into my head, like I’m cutting a trailer for a movie to the song. I started calling them my anchor songs. When I lose the thread and need to feel things again, I can throw the anchor song on and it drags me right back into the pure feels I had when I started. I pace, I dance, and I find my way back.

For Broken Magic, the anchor song was Ani Difranco’s “Little Plastic Castle”. Since it took me two years to write the book, I listened to this song a lot.

For Mimesis, I had two. One that got me into the story in the first place, and one that became the emotional anchor for what I was doing. That second song (the first fell off the playlist when the second came along) is “Cosmic Love” by Florence + The Machine. Not only did I drag it out to get through the bad days, it came back into the playlist for revisions, because I needed to remember who the story was.

In both cases, they were the songs that got me excited about what I was writing. They were the heart of their respective novels. They’re so embedded with those emotions that I can’t listen to them now without the stories rushing back in. “Little Plastic Castle” will always be Broken Magic to me. The images I burned into myself through that song are as fresh as they were 7 years ago when I started.

I’m guessing my process too idiosyncratic to work for everyone (unless you like dancing around your room pre-writing), but at its heart it’s the same as Field’s envelope suggestion. My envelope is music. The pure energy of the story becomes entangled with it, there to be released when I hit play. The pen-on-paper-in-actual-envelope thing is probably a better suggestion for anyone who isn’t me, but how you do it doesn’t matter. The point is to prepare for the day when you forget why you loved your story in the first place. That day will come, and it isn’t the day to quit. It’s the day to rediscover the joy you’d deny yourself if you did.

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5 Responses to Anchor Songs

  1. Catherine says:

    I love that “Little Plastic Castles” was “Broken Magic”! (Or… the other way round I guess?). Here is a fun activity for your third book. Give readers three or four song options and after reading they have to guess which song encapsulates the energy of the book! hee.

  2. Brian says:

    Okay, moving past the dancing here. I loved how you wrote “I needed to remember “who” the story is.” This says so much. Great post, Eric.

  3. nypinta says:

    My thing is if I get a story bascially sorted out and in order in my head so that I know who does what and gets to the point they are supposed to then in my head it’s resolved… and I stop writing it down. Because it’s done. Kind of frustrating. Especially because there is always more that happens along the way than you plan and I know I’m missing out on all of that.

    PS Great song choices!

  4. iasoupmama says:

    I think that everyone hits that point with any creative endeavor — I used to tell my students that two weeks before a show opens, it will stink worse than anything ever stunk (coincidentally, that’s 2/3 of the way through the rehearsals), but that if we kept going, it would all be fine. And it always was.

    Loved this post!

  5. Pingback: Beyond the Milestone » Saalon Muyo

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