Thursday, November 26, 2009

I listen to music when I write but it has to be music without lyrics. Most of the time its operatic or choral music like a soundtrack from a movie or ambient. I know a lot of writers use music to illuminate the mood or atmosphere of a scene, I know I do. Listening to music as I write helps me imagine a scene more clearly in my head. It's strange to think of fiction in "scenes," like you would a movie but I think it's easier that way.

One author I admire, Robert Olen Butler, wrote a book titled, From Where You Dream. The book is basically just a transcription of lectures Butler gave at Florida State University so it makes the tone conversational and approachable. What also makes the book so compelling is Butler's musings on the craft and how one comes up with prose that is both a sensory experience as well as an engrossing narrative. He thinks you can do this by approaching your writing from a film maker's perspective. Write your scene using "shots" to navigate you. Think of the "close up" or the "long shot" while you write your characters. He also talks about what it means as a writer to sit down every day with your characters and try to make them come alive.

Here is one quote that I found to be particularly illuminating:

Please get out of the habit of saying that you've got an idea for a short story. Art does not come from ideas. Art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where you dream. Art comes from your unconscious; it comes from the white hot center of you. Does this make sense? Do you understand what I'm saying? If you want to think your way into your fiction, if you think you can analyze your way into a work of art, we're going to be totally at odds philosophically about what art is and where it comes from. But if you have this aspiration and an open sensibility and if what I am saying makes sense, then you have to tell your mind to back the hell off. It's another place in yourself entirely where you must look to create a work of art. And I'll wager that virtually everything you've written so far has com from your head.

You know it's easy to get caught up in the ambition of being a writer. It's easy to get caught up in loving literature and wishing to be the person on the dust jacket. The ambition, as innocent seeming as it is, can very easily muscle out your deeper, more delicate, more difficult ambitions. It can muscle them out in favor of: I want to get published, I want to be famous. I want to win a prize. Or even in terms : I want to be an artist. ....What I want to nurture in you is the impulse: I'm ravished by sensual experience! I yearn to take life in! My God! I've got the sense that the world has meaning. Things roll around in my dream space, and I've got to figure out how to make art objects out of them! (13-14)

I am ravished by sensual experience. Music guides me through my difficult scenes. I'm thankful this year - thankful for all of it.

If you'd like to read Robert Olen Butler my personal suggestions are: his novel, Severance and his short story, "Jealous Husband Returns In Form Of Parrot." There is a link to it:


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