An update: Closing in on 50,000 words of draft 1, novel 2. As I mentioned before, this time around, I’m trying strategy. I’m writing with (and sticking to) a detailed outline, mainly because this time I’ve got three kids and, let’s face it, no time to mess around. But it’s still taking so much longer to get to the end of this draft. Writing my first novel, I blurted out 75,000 words in two months. Sure, back then I was a terrible, unpracticed writer, but I was on a roll!
Nothing could stop me. Mother to none but my faithful dog and suffering no distractions except the crazy upstairs neighbours and their love of the Black Eyed Peas, I blasted through page after page. I will admit to getting sidetracked more than once trying to find music that would both drown out Fergie and annoy the upstairs ladies right back. Thank you, Xavier Rudd and your didgeridoo. (That sounds like a euphemism. It’s really not.)
This time around, there’s no Black Eyed Peas, no upstairs neighbours, just these three really loud kids of mine.
A snapshot from earlier today: youngest making play dough spaghetti, screeching for me to pretend to eat it, which I do while trying to write, headphones on. The middle one tugs my arm, mouths words at me, words mainly about his thirstiness just as I’ve returned to my seat after pouring a drink for the eldest who is now, whistle wetted, singing along to some Meghan Trainor song at the top of her lungs. I pour the juice, sit back down and turn the volume up, hoping to fade them out, put myself on a more peaceful plane, trying to move my mind away from all the noise happening outside of my body and into the quiet inside of my head. That’s where all the words are. And music is how I get there.
I started this first draft with my usual suspect singer-songwriters: Joni Mitchell, Elliott Smith, Neko Case, Rufus Wainwright. On days when I wanted less words: Charlie Parker, Herbie Hancock. If I really needed to bash some words out, just Bim-bam, skim-skam, jim-jam Romp, I had Cab Calloway. But somewhere around the 30,000 word mark, I got tired of music saying the same things to me it always had. I wanted new, needed new, had to have new.
During this output phase, this highly creative first/second draft stage when I fire out so many ideas all at once, I get a little intense about new creative input coming back to me. I aspire to a complete circuit — output, input, repeat. Reading is normally my main input. But reading other writers’ sentences at this stage, while I’m so hard at work stringing together my own, it’s too much distraction for me, like singing some quiet little Woody Guthrie ditty while the radio blares Madonna.
So tonight, as many nights before, after the kids are asleep and my writing is done for the day, I go exploring — hours spent following a weird six-degrees-of-separation trail through the Spotify catalogue. I’ve discovered so many new-to-me artists in the past four months. My music taste has gone from a sort of advanced singer-songwriter vibe back to the weird mix of styles I remember jamming to as a kid, giant headphones plugged in, in a world of my own, flipping through the family record collection looking for my next song.
It was an eclectic mix to say the least. Some of the albums I remember best: Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Cats The Broadway Musical, Lionel Richie’s Dancing on the Ceiling, the soundtrack to Star Wars, Sesame Street Fever, The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, ELO’s Face The Music which I always put on at Halloween because it had one very spooky sounding song on it, Anne Murray’s There’s a Hippo in my Tub, Kim Cairn’s Mistaken Identity, The Muppet Show Album, Harry Nilsson’s The Point, Huey Lewis & The News’ Sports, Weather Report’s Heavy Weather and David Lee Roth’s Crazy From the Heat. See? Totally weird. And not all of it good (ahem, DLR and your Just a Gigolo) but still, yeah!
Yeah for my parents mashed-together record collection into which they later incorporated my older sister’s favourites. Yeah for sitting in one place for more than an hour, just dropping the needle, listening and looking at cover art, reading lyrics. Yeah for sometimes sneaking the records upstairs and playing them for my little brother on my Strawberry Shortcake portable record player. We will always have Wild Thing by The Troggs switched from 33rpm to 45, he and I. And yeah for weird and eclectic, both then and now.
Otherwise, I listen to the same songs, that say the same things, and call up the same memories. Sometimes that’s good — comforting and necessary and familiar enough to be background music. (I will find you again, my singer-songwriters, when it comes time for editing.) But for now you’re not in my mix. Now I need my tunes to change me a little bit, to get me to the quiet place in my head where the words come from, and to make those words new.
And now, a few songs if you need some fresh input:
Erin Bedford, writer.