Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: a fire to be lighted

James Dream of the Olympus Mons

Olympus Mons (courtesy NASA via wikipedia)

Olympus Mons (courtesy NASA via wikipedia)

Yesterday, I wrote about the music I’ve been listening to while I work on my science fiction novel and music—a song anyway—is the inspiration for the setting, at least for now. It’s set on Mars at a research station near Olympus Mons, the massive shield volcano at the edge of the Tharsis region.

According to Wikipedia, Olympus Mons stands over 16 miles above the Martian surface and is 342 miles wide, about the size of the state of Missouri.

I don’t know if I’ll keep that site in the final draft, but the choice was inspired by the Pixies tune “Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons,” one of my all-time favorite Pixies songs. Okay, all Pixies songs are pretty much my all-time favorite Pixies songs, but really, I mean a song about a bird dreaming of flying around on another planet?

Did they write the song just for me?

Have a listen.

Writing and Music

My uncle, who is both a writer and a retired writing teacher (and who has read several of my works-in-progress over the years) has commented on occasion that the voice in my work is consistent in such a way that it seems everything is done in one sitting.

I had never thought about it, but I think part of what makes that possible is ritual. During the summer when I have all day everyday it’s not so important; I just sit and write. Doing NaNoWriMo last month forced me to think about how to get into the zone so that the isolated hour here and two hours there could be most productive.

Music is one of the best writing rituals I’ve found. Whenever I work on a novel, I tend to pick one CD (or one artist now that itunes makes it easy to shuffle all of an artist’s work) for that project. In the past I’ve written to And then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out by Yo La Tengo, the hundred or so hours of Dead I’ve got, and Enigma’s MCMXC. For this project, I turned to ( ) by Sigur Rós.

When finding music for writing, I look for work that’s interesting musically, but that can also fade into the background. I like lots of instrumentals and open spaces and maybe even some drone.

Last month, I found ( ) to be perfect for an eerie science fiction piece set at a research base on Mars. Perhaps on some level Sigur Rós appealed because they’re from Iceland, a nation whose landscapes are closer to what exists on Mars than almost anywhere else on Earth. The music is also otherworldly, and the lyrics are not sung in English so they don’t become a distraction.

By listening to ( ) in my car on my way home from work, I found that I would already be in my writing zone by the time I got home. I would brew a cup of tea (another ritual) and sit down to write. While writing at my computer, I used itunes and so could go beyond ( ) to include Takk… and “Sevefn-g-englar,” the epic track from Vanilla Sky that turned me on to Sigur Rós in the first place.

I have an easier time getting started when I’ve pre-focused my mind on the drive home. When I sit down the words come easier, and I’m in the frame of mind for a particular story because I think my subconscious is already tuned to that story’s frequency.

I was finishing some revisions on another novel at the beginning of the month and I found I could easily switch focus between stories by changing the music from Sigur Rós to the Grateful Dead.

What (if anything) do you listen to when you write?

Here’s a video of Sigur Rós performing “Sevefn-g-englar.” You have to love a guy who uses a bow to play his guitar. Enjoy.

I’m Back to Explain My (NaNoWriMo) Experience

I “won” NaNoWriMo, which means that I wrote 50,000 words during the month of November. To be precise, I wrote 50,364. The idea is to write a novel, but that 50K I wrote is more like two-thirds of a novel. A decent start, at any rate.

I figure I’ll finish the first draft in the next two weeks. It feels like it wants to be about 80,000 words or so, but we’ll see. Once that’s done I’ll let it cool for a few months before tackling revisions. Maybe they should call it National Novel Starting Month (NaNoStMo?) since all those first drafts are unlikely to be presentable.

The experience of participating in NaNoWriMo was an enlightening one. For years, I have convinced myself that I can only write novels during summer vacation because there just isn’t time during the school year. I found out I was wrong about that. I lied to myself! I can work on novels anytime, and I discovered some ways to bring focus to the small chunks of time in which I could write.

I used NaNoWriMo to try some new things too. I wrote in the first person, which I’ve only done in short stories, and I’m doing science fiction, which I’ve always wanted to try but hadn’t until now. The go-go-go pace of writing for this challenge doesn’t  leave much room for self-doubt so it’s a great time to try new things and experiment a little bit.

It’s been fun, and I like the characters and the story. I’m surprised by some of what has happened, but that’s part of what makes writing such a thrill.

Starting a New Novel

I’m doing NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write the first draft of a novel during the month of November. The draft should be 50,000 words.

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo before mainly because I’ve always assumed I can’t write a novel in a month during the school year.  I’ve written first drafts in a month, but only during the summer.

One of my teacher friends mentioned she was doing it and asked if anyone wanted to join her. At first I said no. 50K words in a month? While teaching? Impossible.

Then, I started to wonder if I could do it. I mean, I’ve written three first drafts already so this isn’t new. How does one begin a new writing project? Why, at the beginning, of course.

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor Books, 1994). In her chapter “Shitty First Drafts,” she uses the metaphor of driving at night to describe first drafts. We can only see as far down the road as the headlights reveal, but eventually we’ll come to a destination.

What’s that destination?

Last a week a character came to mind. A setting. That’s where I start a draft. Just write about the character and the place. Things will present themselves. This is the beautiful serendipity of fiction.

Sure, I will likely cut out most of the opening fourth of the book when I get to revisions, but that opening part is where characters are met and discoveries are made.

I started yesterday and wrote about 3,500 words. I like the narrator, and I like the premise. Toward the end of writing, another character walked up and whispered something in my protagonist’s ear. I was as surprised as him.

Doors begin to open and the world grows. I can’t wait to see what happens today.

That’s the excitement of first drafts. You just write what seems right at the time, taking the words as they come. Don’t worry about plot holes and inconsistencies. So what if your protagonist is 37 on one page and 42 on another. Fix it in post, as they say in the film biz.

That’s where I do research too. Since this is a sci-fi project, I’ll have a lot to do to create the verisimilitude I want, but for now, I intend to tell the story as it unfolds in front of me.

As with football, it’s all about forward progress and at the end of November, I’ll have a first draft to revise and craft into something good. Something beyond a “shitty first draft.”

Working title is A Fire to Be Lighted.

Wish me luck.

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