Friday, October 21, 2011

Scoring the Right Music

Much has been written of late about music and the writer. I’d never put my mind to the question before this past couple of months. Suddenly everyone wants to know what others listen to when they’re writing. 

Some prefer to hear nothing while their minds struggle to put precise words onto the screen or the paper. I could not do that on a regular basis. I have specific music that I listen to when I need to shut out the world while composing whatever prose or poetry is destined to flow from my fingertips. 

Kitaro's or Deuter's fabulous CDs work well when in that dreamy, contemplative phase of creation strikes. For those lively stories that demand lots of movement, Andes Manta fills the headphones with Ecuadorian life and celebration. I highly recommend this group or ones like them for fast paced writing. For op-ed work, pipes and drums come to mind or something very martial in attitude—one of the classical works, perhaps. Mannheim Steamroller is an impressive incentive type music, too.

I’ve tried music with voices raised in song. I can’t do it—too distracting. I want music, but only instrumentals. Relaxation, meditation, or sound effects CDs will work as well--for poetry, especially. 

When I think about those writers of centuries ago, I wonder what filled their ears while their fingers were busy with quill and parchment or vellum. Did they come to the point of screaming at the distraction of rowdy children squealing and running below their window? I tend to doubt they hired minstrels to come play for them during working hours. 

What did Homer hear while penning his masterpieces? Was it only the surf pounding against the rocky shoreline, or splashing against the sides of ships at anchor? Did Tennyson or Bryon, Melville or Hawthorne wait for the appropriate strains of music before risking their brilliance to the permanence of ink on paper?  

Somehow I doubt it. 

Our times dictate most of what we do and how we do it. Many of us can no longer envision a life without a ready connection to others thousands of miles away that takes less than the flick of a thought to bring into your space. We’re spoiled by our now. 

And yet, I wonder if we recognize our now when we’re in it. How many of us are actually aware of an instant of thought or inspiration? How many take the opportunity to breathe deeply of a rose’s perfume before strolling off to our next encounter? And how many are aware of what they missed today because their chosen writing instruments and music have kept them prisoner behind a screen.

You tell me.

Until later,


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Notes on Writing

Last night Sister Jo and I went to the symphony. We’d lucked out a couple of months back when she won tickets to the first concert of the season of the Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale.

We weren’t disappointed in the performance. It was brilliant. Amit Peled, the renowned cellist, performed to the strains of Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of cellists play, but I’ve never heard one that did multiple harmonic chords simultaneously. That feat sent shivers up my spine. He definitely deserves his acclaim.

Sister Jo, much to her benefit, became overheated during the first movement of the final piece, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G major. She excused herself and headed out to the lobby. It was fortunate for her because while she sat in the comfort of an overstuff couch with plenty of elbow room, Amit Peled joined her. He was cooling off after his performance. I tried not to be jealous later when she told me of this encounter. I’m still not sure if I succeeded.

During the fourth movement of Mahler’s Symphony, guest soprano, Emily Murdock, sand a marvelous rendition of the German solo. For those of us in the audience who didn’t speak German, we made do with following along with the printed lyrics in the program via tiny pen lights.

The oddity of this symphony was that it held many passages in discordance. The glory of it was that though the discordance was held, harmonics surrounded and blended with it so that it was no longer a disruptive element. I’ll come back to this fact in a bit.

I tell you all of this because I have a habit. Maybe all writers have a similar one. I don’t know.

When I’m listening to a symphony like this, where several pieces are brought together for presentation, with each one having a distinct theme and sound, I pay attention to the different mental images evoked. I sit with my eyes closed and allow my mind to create whatever images it wants. If I work it right, I can begin by thinking of an unfinished story project on my desk and watch the rest of the story unfold.

That’s what I did last night. I began by thinking of my YA/Adult fantasy novel, “Wisher’s World: Composing an Apprentice” and slipped the reins on my imagination. By the end of the first musical offering of the evening--Josef Suk’s Scherzo Fantastique, Op. 25--I had the rest of the story, full-blown, complete with plot twists. The music was perfect for my purpose. My job at that point was to remember what I’d seen behind closed eyes.

I enjoyed the cello piece for itself, and then turned to my women’s novel “Dreamie’s Box” for the symphony. I got some great twists during that session. Remember that fact about the discordance? While I listen I realized that for me it symbolized those obstacles that the main character must overcome, solve, utilize to advantage. I began to see the interplay between discordant action and the harmony of other parts in a story as having an intricate relationship, built of both necessity and achievement at the end. They must both be present.

That lesson was an important one for me. I suppose it’s an important one for any writer. Learning from listening to that music brought the lesson home with impact and permanence.

I came away with more than the music ringing in my ears. I had new notes for writing on two novels under construction right now. What more could any writer want? What I wonder is whether other writers do the same thing when they listen to music.

Think about it. Let me know what you think. Until later,


Friday, October 7, 2011

Taking Time

There are times like now when preparations for a short trip, entertaining, etc. begin to pall. That’s when I choose to take my mind completely away from the current time consumers and look for something totally different.

Doing this clears the mind to allow for subtle preparations and mental lists to go on while the body and front brain are engaged elsewhere.

Today, that elsewhere was learning more about how to effectively use Office 2010. Beginning with Word, the process moved me though templates, themes, styles, etc. There was very much to learn and try to keep straight in the mind. Though I used this version of Word for over a year, I’d never gotten to know it and its potential. That oversight is rapidly being corrected.

Suddenly the idea of all of those lovely pages that I saw everyone else put together didn’t intimidate me anymore. For so long I’ve watched from the bleachers while all around me creativity was flaunted with such ease that I felt like a complete idiot.

I know there are books that seemed written just for me. I’ve seen them on the shelves and felt too embarrassed to actually buy one. Way back when I got my Office 2010 software, I went to all the trouble of buying a nice book called “The Ultimate Guide to Microsoft Office 2010.”

I’d refused to take sufficient time or attention to read, absorb and fiddle on the computer to learn anything it might have had to say about my new programs.

Shame should cover me with its scarlet flush. Now it’s possible to create marvelous-looking documents with simple tools. Hope springs up in my heart; hope of learning how to edit with notes in the margins, or that exciting photo modification that’s available—and  dare I think Publishing. Can’t wait to get to that chapter.

Study time has ended for the day. Perhaps this weekend while I’m killing time in a motel room in Washington, I can take on the next phase of this process called “becoming familiar with Office 2010.”

Laptop and book will accompany me on our short trip westward. I’ll keep busy with learning and reading.

Anyone who is only now beginning to take this software seriously should drop by the local chain bookstore. Get yourself a copy of a book like mine that can walk you through the process of learning ribbons, media creation, etc. You don’t have to go online and listen to tutorials unless you want to, or unless you have two computers; one for the tutorial and one for hands-on practice.

Jump in and explore some of the options. If you’re like me and haven’t taken the time to dive deeper than you’ve gone before, strap on the scuba tank and take a gander at what’s on the sea bottom. I’ve found treasure I didn’t know existed. All I have to do is haul it up and cash in on it.

Until later,