Monday, November 2, 2009

Driving and Singing like I'm Kermit and Fozzie in one Great Package

Tip of the Day: The Rochester Children's Book Festival is this Saturday in Rochester, New York. It's a great lineup and the festival is free!

I drive from the suburbs into the "city" to work every day. (The "city" is Rochester. I grew up on Long Island so I'm obligated by birth to put quote marks around "city" when not referring to New York City.) This is a time of solitude. The kids are on the school bus and it's just me and my car and my tunes. And my works in progress, of course. Commuting time is prime brainstorming time.

Some people can listen to books on CD while they commute, but I always lose the thread. I get cut off by an oversized pickup or have to dodge an old Dodge, and by the time I gain equilibrium, I'm two chapters behind. So I gave up on audiobooks in the car and now I just sing along to my music and think about what I want to write when I get home.

To get myself instantly into fiction writer mode, I have playlists in my iPod named after my characters. I plug my car tuner into my iPod, push play on my playlist, and by the time I get to the highway on-ramp, I'm mentally deep into ideas for my next chapter. My playlists are sometimes music my character would listen to, but usually I don't have the same taste in music as my characters, being born in a different decade and all that. So my playlists are more like what I see as the soundtrack to the imaginary movie of my novels.

Here are some of the songs I heard this morning, from the Holly list:

  • Witch, by the Bird and the Bee
  • iDecide, by What Made Milwaukee Famous
  • Criminal, by Fiona Apple
  • Promises in the Dark, by Pat Benetar
  • Bang Bang Bang Bang, by the Soho Dolls

It's not that I listen to that kind of music on a loop while I'm writing. But if I'm doing something else (like driving), those songs will make me think of my story. Instantly, I'm in that story world.

So how do I find the right songs for my characters? Fortunately, I get to listen to internet radio sites at my day job. Check out,,, and for new music ideas. I keep a steno pad on my desk while I work. When I hear a song that reminds me of one of my stories, I jot it down. Then I periodically take the list home and download my favorites from iTunes or Amazon. That may seem like a lot of work, but with my particular job and commute, it's very convenient for me.

The key is to remember to write down my ideas before I get caught up in work or home life! So I keep index cards and pens just about everywhere.

So what do you do while you drive? Some people pay attention to the road, I hear. I hate it when I have to do that.

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages


Shannon Messenger said...

I actually do the same thing you do, listen to my writing playlists. I have playlists for my characters (full of songs I generally don't like--some of my kids have TERRIBLE taste) but I only listen to those when I'm actually writing their scenes.

But I also have my mood playlists: songs that could easily be on the soundtrack when my book hits the big screen (what? if you're going to dream, dream big!). Then I drive and think, think and drive (oh, and occasionally check the speedometer--I have a lead foot and would prefer not to get speeding ticket.) I thought I was alone in this method, so I'm glad to know I'm not!

Kate Fall said...

Yay, Shannon! It's nice to find a kindred spirit. Music helps me think and always has.

And I definitely cannot listen to some of the horrible music my characters like! Although I think I have a party scene playlist for writing bad teenage party scenes.

DeenaML said...

Movin' right along, dug-a-dum, dug-a-dum.... ;)

Lisa Schroeder said...

I have gotten many ideas during my commute to and from work. It's not necessarily the music, it's just the alone time, I think. I alternate between audio books and music. I agree - if I am needing to work things out or come up with ideas, no listening to books! But some times, I'm ready to not be in writer mode and just enjoy the reading mode instead. :)