The things to avoid

Now that I’ve beaten back Comodo’s insistence that Mad Genius Club is EVIL! EVIL! and got access back to the site (I’m glad I got rid of the bloody thing. Bastards took over DNS routing and didn’t reset it when I uninstalled. That’s just plain bad manners), I can return to your regular Thursday dose of things weird and Kate.

Since we’ve had a flurry of ‘state of the industry’ posts, I’m going to leave that topic lie and talk about something else altogether: things that writers need to avoid while working on the draft.

No, it’s not a prescriptive list of “thou shalt not”. It’s more a case of “these things have effects that can bugger around with your subconscious”. Since a big chunk of writing in the draft phase is convincing/cajoling/tricking/coercing your subconscious into giving up the goodies it’s holding onto (at least if you’re a pantser like me) and letting them show up on the page, anything that interferes with doing that is something you want to avoid.

For me, there is music that’s good to write to and music that – no matter how much I love it – I simply can’t have on when I’m writing. My no-nos include any music that gets an emotional reaction from me (because the emotional swings in music aren’t going to ever synch with the emotions the work in progress needs to have, and the emotion of the music will override what should be happening in the story), music that forces me to actively listen (I can have music as background or actively listen – but some pieces insist I listen. Those will kill writing progress dead), most music with vocals in English (the words throw me out of the writing trance – although there are exceptions to this).

Music that doesn’t fall into the “don’t write to this” list is mostly neutral – I can have it on and it doesn’t help or hinder.

Then there’s a small set of music that kicks my subconscious into gear and makes writing happen.

Of course, the same issues apply to things other than music. Some people work best when they’ve got nice big chunks of uninterrupted time. Others do best fitting their writing around everything else and getting a few words here and a few there. The goal is two-fold: work out what actively blocks your ability to write and avoid that, and work out what helps and try to make that happen. If you can only do one of those at a time, start with finding your blockers and working out how to avoid them.

This is why I have several playlists of writing music. They’re eclectic as hell, but they’re entirely music that’s good to write to. If it ain’t in the playlist and I’m writing at home, it’s not going to be played.

For me another blocker is conversation – so even if I haven’t got music going, I’ll put on the headphones as a “do not disturb” signal.

Of course, my biggest issue when I’m not squeezing writing in around other things (preferably when I think I shouldn’t be writing – damned subconscious!), is getting distracted. I’ll go to look something up and four hours later I haven’t added a single word. One day I’ll get to rehabbing the low-distraction Linux box and run it as the writing machine again. Everything is set up except that it needs to have the drive scanned, cleaned and the operating system loaded clean (not the biggest issue), and that it needs to be vacuumed out because the cat fluff is making it overheat whenever I start it up (this is the big issue – it means I have to pull the box out from under the desk, take the cover off, find the right tool for the vacuum and clean things out… then because the rest of under the desk is such a cat fluff repository, vacuum that… And so it goes. Yeah I’m lazy. And I procrastinate. Besides, most of the writing that’s happening at the moment happens in odd moments when I’m at work, on paper, in longhand. I’m just transcribing which is brainless enough that I don’t really need the focus.

Anyway. Odd Kate-rambles aside, identifying things that get in the way of your writing and either removing them or routing around them matters. I can testify that the little blocks can very easily turn into mighty “thou shalt not write” chains if you don’t.


  1. Any chance of listing the music? I also can’t write to music with human voices–even vocalization or languages I don’t speak are distracting. I have a lot of movie soundtracks in my playlists…and I’m always looking for more Good Stuff.

    1. Erm. Let’s see… there’s the soundtrack of the Overlord games (not easily acquired, I might add). The Pirates of the Caribbean movie soundtracks work for me. In an exception to the “human voices” there’s anything by Within Temptation.

      If I’m looking for a slightly lighter tone, the Gettysburg soundtrack also works well.

      That’s what’s coming to mind right now.

  2. I have to stop having so many things going on at once. It’s way too easy, when the words come hard, to decide you need to tweak the cover for the other book, or jot down a quick idea or do _anything_ with the internet. Sometimes I have to take my lobotomized notebook someplace where there’s nothing to do except write.

    Or stop arguing with the secondary character who is getting pushy. (1) This is a YA story. The adults are background. (2) You are supposed to be the cardboard cutout more-nuisance-than-bad-guy. (3) The MC is way too young for you, you pervert! (4) That name is already taken. No. Choose another. I don’t care what, but _that_ name is taken.

    1. The MC in my WIP just decided to found a convent. That wasn’t supposed to happen. On the up side, my research books have arrived, so perhaps I can get that done before writing Vol. Three (of what was supposed to be a one off, one volume). Oh, and a semi-mythical figure is clearing his throat and suggesting that he’d like to tell the REAL history. *glares at the imaginary individual*

      1. It’s enough to make one _hope_ the theory of ideas falling through the world and occasionally striking a susceptible brain is true, isn’t it? Because otherwise, we’ll have to admit that our brains are capable of coming up with this stuff, without us even noticeing.

        1. Oh, telepathy, the theory of a ladder of selves, Carl Jung’s collective unconscious… lots of possibilities here. A bit disturbing, isn’t it? Especially this: at times several people seem to come up with exactly the same idea, independently, or at least with ideas which bear a very strong resemblance to one another.

          I’d prefer to think my subconscious is mine alone, no matter how weird stuff it sometimes cooks up, I’d rather not suspect I may share some of that space with other people. Who knows who those people might include.

    2. This is the purpose behind the idea of the low-distraction writing computer. Of course, I can distract myself with everything in your list and then some without any kind of visual or internetty cues.

  3. I find the BSG (new Battlestar) soundtracks are good for “creepy tension building” scenes. I also like the stuff by Two Steps From H-ll, Thomas Bergersen, and The Immediate. Otherwise it’s classical without English or German vocals (minus requiems and masses. I know the Latin too well and start singing along). Although, some European black metal (Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, Evenescence) is so hard to understand that I don’t notice the words, and it makes good “snarling fight scene” music.

    I use the music as white-noise. I write at home. Certain family members like to watch the TV news stations, and the sound carries. No, asking them not to watch is not an option, nor is asking them to turn it down. “Maintaining the domestic tranquility” and all that. 🙂 When the music doesn’t work, I put on the big muffs I use when I go shooting.

    1. I like the BSG soundtracks and Two Steps from H*ll, too! Both are very conducive to High Drama.

      One strange thing for which I almost need distraction is in-putting pure copy edits. A friend just did the last re-read of my WIP, and I am making those changes while watching TV with the husband.

      I’m getting very excited, actually. This is the first thing I’m going to put up, and, after the final edits, all I need is the cover. One of my sons has agreed to be the human figure looking out through the pillars of the Lincoln Memorial. I just need to drag him down here for it on a sunny day. And figure out how to photoshop an Earth-like planet into the sky.

    2. I like Nightwish and Evenescence, there was a German metal band that was also very good, but since you understand German that probably wouldn’t be a good choice for you. As far as classical goes, the only classical I have ever been able to stand is Wagner, Ride of the Valkyrie’s is good for building suspense or for fight scenes. Mainly I don’t use music because I tend to like music and pay attention to the lyrics, or if I don’t like it just irritates me, if I need white noise I will go with Celtic or Goth or Metal that I have listened to enough to just let it wash over me without paying any attention to the lyrics (and then I still occasionally find a character using a line out of a song).

    3. Hm. I must go looking at some of those – Evanescence doesn’t do much for me but some of the others work well.

  4. Music is simply impossible for me to write to — too entrancing. My husband’s TV shows are worse.

    I find that I have to cling tenaciously to my “first-thing-in-the-day” mode, where only writing (and immediate surroundings editing) is permitted. Once I let myself ramble to anything else, even research or book related, it’s way difficult to get back in the zone.

    Since I work full time, I don’t often get to try for more than 2-4 hours/day, but I have had some success doing 8 hours of daily writing occasionally. It does leave me feel rather burnt out, though.

    I lust for full-time writing, thought. Hard to tear myself away when I’m having fun. (I need a T-shirt with some slogan about Immersive Writing.)

    1. It’s always a matter of what works for you. I know all about the full time work thing, and trying to fit writing around your life.

  5. My biggest problem – aside from the ever-present ill-help of the interwebs – is not having a physical space *just* for writing. In our upcoming (two weeks, yikes!) move, we’ll be looking for a place with a space I can make a writing office. White boards for scrawlings, a place for a desk I’ll have to make. Decent acoustics would be nice, as I do like to have music going. Music is my prefered method of drowning out neighborhood noises. A neighbor’s small dogs spent an entire day barking ever few seconds. Enough to drive one – further – to madness. Right now, I’ve got my folding laptop desk perched on the coffeetable amid our stuff. Too much stuff is also a horrible distraction, as it screams to get it cleaned up. It doesn’t happen that often, but it screams all the same. In the new place, should I have the office, I just won’t allow that much stuff in there with me. Which should help.

    1. As per musical particulars, the soundtrack from the recent Hansel/Gretel Witch Hunters flick is pretty good, especially for more horror work. Many soundtracks are, depending on genre you’re writing. I’m fond of that, the Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, Indiana Jones ones for adventure, the Sherlock Holmes ones for steampunk, as well as any number of other things. The aforementioned Two Steps From Hell is excellent. Along the same lines are the various Epic Score albums. I’m also a fan of power metal as a basic soundtrack. Cascading electric guitars just does it for me. I’m particularly fond of Blind Guardian, Nightwish, Kamelot, Rhapsody of Fire (with special guest narrator Sir Christopher Lee!), as well as more prog metal, along the lines of Leaves Eyes or folk metal like Korpiklaani and Eluveitie. Occasionally, I’ll just throw on Pandora set to Enter the Haggis, and enjoy pipes and drinking songs while I write. Depends on the subject matter.

      1. Dragonforce is really good if you like cascading electric guitars. But I find the lyrics distract me.

        1. I find myself skipping their tracks more and more. I barely catch most of their lyrics, but the singer’s voice isn’t high on my list of faves, and their speed (while technically impressive) may just be a detractor for me.

          Sonata Arctica is another I enjoy, and forgot to mention.

      2. All good choices there – and yes, the Epic Score albums are good, too.

        If you like the female vocals, Tarja is excellent, too.

        1. I’m not as impressed by her solo, post-Nightwish work. Fortunately, there are several of her Nightwish albums available. Hmmm, Cruxshadows, VNV Nation, Lacuna Coil, Evanescence. The first two of those are more industrial, consequently I tend to listen to them when I’m doing more cyberpunkish stuff.

          1. I find the fusion orchestral stuff is what gets me going. The more orchestra involved, the better.

          2. I love Cruxshadows, but find myself singing along and listening intently to the lyrics on about half their songs instead of writing. ‘Birthday’ is playing right now, and it kind of just washes over me, but songs like Winterborn and Dragonfly I find myself not doing anything until the song is over, and then having to drag myself out of the meaning of the song and back to where my mind was before. Within Temptation is the same way, while Nightwish and Evanescence just wash over me as background. I’ll have to check out some of the others you mention.

            1. Yeah – it’s a very individual thing. With me, as soon as anything Within Temptation starts up I can feel the subconscious kick into overdrive. Something about their music does that to me. The others are good background, but they don’t have that kick.

    2. A physical space just for writing? I don’t have one of those… My perverse subconscious seems to think that the time to write is when I should be doing something else, and dedicated writing anything is an instant shutdown. I have to trick myself into it when I’m not at work.

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