on creative stagnation

(and other inscrutable tuesday night thoughts)

I get tired a lot.

(The end, that’s the blog. Hi, how’s your 2021 turning out, by the way?)

Let’s think of life in terms of plotting out a novel, right. There’s a main plot and subplots, and these threads are intertwined, at least in a good one. I like my day job, I think I’m decent at it and I dedicate 40 hours a week to it, but I don’t want my day job to be the A-plot of my life. Because capitalism’s a bitch. So work is a B-plot. A couple months ago I might’ve said my love life was the A-plot, but after going through a pretty painful breakup I’m inclined to think otherwise, and that could be for the best. Actually, knock work down to C, put love at B. A romance subplot is almost always the way to go, breakups and all. Alright. So what’s the A-plot, then?

I want my A-plot to be writing. “Cool! So, Ellie, in that case: what’ve you been writing lately?” Jack shit! Because I am tired! A lot!

I’ve been feeling pretty creatively stagnant. I have a ~75% finished book manuscript that I haven’t been able to wrap up in a year. Another book idea lying in wait in my periphery. And haven’t even tried writing a short story since my last one was published in July. I guess a pandemic will do that to ya.

Do I have a solution? Nah, dude. This whole blog is just wordvomit that I’ll remember in six months and cringe horribly at. Times are weird right now. But I’m trying to find that motivation again. Maybe I just need to upgrade my brain storage capacity. That’s what therapy is, right?

we have all the time in the world

and yet none at all.

Yes, I’m writing what is essentially a New Years’ post in February. Time is fake anyway. Haven’t you been paying attention?

Acknowledging the universally-agreed-upon fact that New Years resolutions are stupid and pointless, I did come up with a couple of goals for 2021. Read more books, make a daily habit out of writing, et cetera. Pretty sure those were also my goals for 2020 and we all saw how that turned out. Alas. If I’m lucky, this’ll be the year I finish my first real manuscript. It’s about time I polished that one off; I have another idea for a novel knocking around in the back of my head like a penny in an empty piggy bank.

But the passage of time is quite a scary thing (says the 21-year-old after an eight hour video game binge. Side-note: the Resident Evil 2 remake is a masterpiece). 40 hours a week for the day job, around 60 asleep, factor in time for eating and bathing and general self care, how do you divide the remainder of that time with other creative passions? What about casual hobbies? Consuming media for fun? And relationships? Damn, another round on me, fellas. Not sure anyone has the answer to that.

I don’t have anything profound to say on this subject, unfortunately (*distant cheering*). This post is more so a self indulgent exploration of my personal temporal anxieties. How do you cope with having a new four digit number in the top corner of your calendar? I’d like to know.

now that’s some writin’ music, baby!

The only hidden talent to my name is that I can listen to non-instrumental music while reading and writing. That’s right, words and all—and more often than not, they’re loud words, highly charged and emotional. Sometimes more screaming than singing. Still doesn’t distract me from the words I’m taking in visually. I know, someone call the circus, what a freak.

It’s honestly not that deep and I’m not entirely sure where that intro came from. But one of my favorite fiction-writing-adjacent things to do while I’m in the midst of a project—especially if it’s a long one—is to compile a Spotify playlist. Songs that fit whatever vibe I’m going for; whether that be more explicit with their lyrics (sometimes in my project file I’ll even take note of particularly impactful lyrics to reference), or through the sound of the instrumentals, or even if I just so happen to be writing along to it in a certain moment. Certain songs could be representative of certain characters, or a sequence of songs could correspond to a plot line. It is endlessly fun, but I think it also helps keep me grounded in the world of whatever I’m writing. It’s an exercise in curating a very specific aesthetic, one that I’m building from scratch. Playlists give the story a sound.

And sometimes these story playlists turn out pretty damn good. I started curating my current WIP’s playlist about six months before I actually started drafting it. The tone of the story and the characters was beginning to brew in my mind and I wanted to capture those feelings even if I wasn’t ready to dive in and start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard?). The result was being able to establish my protagonist’s attitudes, her interests, her voice, before I’d even figured out her name, let alone her story. I loathe sounding so pompous—oh the incomparable magic and splendor of the creative process—but it really is a great feeling. I’ve embedded that playlist below if you’d like to check it out.

The first song I heard that sort of was the key in the ignition for this playlist was “Escape” by Muse. I had gotten the idea for my story maybe a night or two before, I was churning it over and over in my head as I lay on the top bunk of my teeny-tiny dorm room in London (but that’s a story for another time), and this song came on through my headphones. And I cried. My zodiac sign’s a cancer, alright?! A bitch cries often! But the lyrics, man. Every single line in that song fit my protagonist. Her romantic relationship, her inner conflicts, the dark adventure she’ll soon be going on . . . it’s just all there. I was gonna copy and paste some of the words here, but realized I’d just be typing out the whole fucking song. I’ll leave that Google search up to you if you’re curious.

Now after all this talk about lyrics, I absolutely can also appreciate some good instrumental bops to guide my writing. In my case, a lot of these end up being from horror movie soundtracks. They’re a lot more artful than you may think! There’s nothing quite like writing a suspenseful scene while listening to The Haunting of Hill House‘s soundtrack, or even an iconic theme like the one from The Exorcist. Try it sometime. (My own instrumental horror playlist is also pretty dope if you want a starting point).

So, yes! Writing along to music! Highly recommend. Instrumental or deathmetal, pick your poison. I think you may be surprised at how much it helps to channel some of the creative energy you have for writing into the curation of something like this. It’s also just damn fun.