Writespiration: “bury a friend” by Billie Eilish

My friend Hannah describes Billie Eilish as “if Tumblr was a person.” She’s artistically angsty with a dramatic edge that can almost induce an eye-roll if you’re not paying enough attention.

The first song I heard from her, her new album’s first single, “bury a friend,” was exactly that. God, she’s like the girl from The Ring meets Wednesday Addams meets a record deal. But then I payed better attention. The song is clearly about mental struggles — burying a friend isn’t literal, as it is in My Chemical Romance’s “Kill All Your Friends” (in that one, the singer laments that “We all wanna party when a funeral ends; and we all get together when we bury our friends; it’s been eight bitter years since I’ve been seeing your face,” hence the reason for the murder spree). For Eilish, it’s dealing with the emotional demons that haunt us. 

So perfect for half the character I write, as the greatest enemies they face are themselves.  

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Writespiration: “Becoming” by Michelle Obama

Trust me, when I cracked open Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, the last thing I expected to get out of it was writing inspiration. An increased respect for one of my heroes, inside look into the Obama administration, and painful nostalgia at how far we’ve fallen since her time in the White House, sure. But who on earth would turn to the memoir of a former First Lady and forever champion of children, equal rights, health and fitness for a pep talk on writing?

But there it was, page 43. 

“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result.”

Obama was writing about her elementary school in Chicago’s Southside. In seventh grade, the Chicago Defender ran an opinion piece that claimed Bryn Mawr was a “run-down slum” led with a “ghetto mentality.” Despite protests from the teachers, principal and community saying otherwise, that article contributed to a growing fear that her once diverse neighborhood was finally succumbing to the blight that struck communities affected by White Flight in the 1970s. 

The theme continues throughout the book, and she brings it up a couple other times when describing college and her husband’s 2008 campaign. But when I read that line, I immediately applied it to my writing.

Nobody’s Hero is a wreck right now. I’ve been her before with other projects, most of which are now collecting proverbial dust on a literal hard drive, not even close to being continued, let alone finished. They vary in style and genre, but they all have one thing in common: they were chucked aside as soon as I started feeling like I was failing them.

Reading Obama’s story — the major shifts in her career from lawyer to community advocate, the highs and lows of her husband’s presidency, the love she has for her country — you know she wouldn’t be in a place to tell us her story if she had surrendered to that feeling of failure instead of pushing through.  

All writers have those projects that they stuff away because they become too challenging, too messy. It’s not easy to declare something a failure and move on to the next project, but it can be a lot easier than continuing to work on a book or script or poem that’s complicated to untangle. I wonder how many pieces with great potential we’ve left languishing in forgotten drawers and cyber folders because we never got past the feeling that they were lost causes. 

Another surprise from the book: I have never before read a memoir that I couldn’t put down. I think I literally consumed the whole thing in four sittings (thanks, cross-country flights!) thanks to its candid and conversational writing style. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone contemplating writing a memoir — or writing in general, come to that.

Writespiration: “Sigh” by Unloved from Killing Eve

This song makes me want to smash five bottles of champagne on the floor and dance over the pieces in five-inch stiletto boots made of leather. 

If that seems oddly specific, it’s because you haven’t watched Killing Eve,  a rightfully lauded show that debuted last year and gained Sandra Oh an oh-so-deserved Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. This song appears a couple times in the most tense, plainly cool moments of romance between two women who have yet to meet face-to-face. 

Seriously, watch Killing Eve.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 28: “Savior” by St. Vincent

Another song discovered this week at just the right time. I’m diving more into Pru’s romance with Federal Vigilante Agent Maxwell Spelling, and when I heard “Savior” by St. Vincent — really heard it — and decided it was a perfect summary of their relationship. Pru is so enamored by him that she doesn’t mind that he’s looking for her to be a distraction, scapegoat, accomplice and victim all at once for him. Similarly, St. Vincent’s song cosmetically sounds like a woman’s adventure with sexual experimentation as her partner begs her to take on different roles (nurse, teacher, nun, cop and leather-momma).

But that’s not the point of the song at all, it turns out.

“I got ’em trying to save the world,” she murmurs at the end. “They said, ‘Girl, you’re not Jesus.'”

So not only is “Savior” about the demands Max makes on Pru in their relationship, but also on the demands she makes on herself and those around her. St. Vincent insists she “can’t be your savior” until being worn down by her lover’s pleas. Pru succumbs to her own addiction to the rush that comes from making a difference.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 21: “Snow Girl” by Staygold

My playlist-prodigy friend Hannah Burkett sent me the link to “Snow Girl” by Staygold on Monday with the simple message, “I’m OBSESSED with this song.” Seeing as she’s the reason I listen to about 37 percent of the music I do (rough estimate), I tuned in.

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve stopped listening to it since that first play. The song came into my life at a perfect time. Right now in Nobody’s Hero, my main character has a come-to-Jesus meeting with the only other person in on her secret when he gets tired of her making decisions without taking him into account.

“So selfish, can’t help it, I know,” Staygold’s song says. “I should think of myself / ‘cuz you never ever thought about me…Acting like I am emotional / wonder why I should stay when I know you won’t change / only happy when you’re in control / you’re always getting your way.”

I know how the argument has to end, but this song just put me in the mood to write a good confrontation.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 18: “Arsonist’s Lullaby” by Hozier

When your book’s hero goes by the monacre “Nightfire” and can spark flames using the flint in the heel of her shoe, “Arsonist’s Lullaby” becomes a must-have on the writing playlist. 

Then again, all of Hozier’s work is writing-appropriate. Try “Nina Cried Power” if you need an uplifting cry later before penning your pledge to the resistance. 

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 12: Amanda Palmer talks at TED

I get into TED Talk ruts when I’m procrastinating, and one of my favorites to hear over and over again is Amanda Palmer’s discussion on the art of asking. It’s about putting yourself out there, shamelessly and fearlessly exploring your creativity, and allowing others to join you.

A lot of her talk has to do with letting rather than requiring people to contribute monetarily to the arts — music in particular — and that’s a hard one to apply to writing when I see authors of both bestselling and unknown books plea with their followers to stop bootlegging their work. But the meat of her presentation is that when you open your arms and let people enjoy and sometimes participate in the act of creativity, chances are they’ll say yes.

It took me a while to be comfortable starting a creative writing blog. I used to write about media issues and journalism, feminism and racism, professional life and personal achievements. That seemed safe because I was often just expounding my opinion, and (as Weezer says) if you don’t like it, you can shove it. But putting creative writing pieces online for anyone and everyone to come across was dangerous, because if people didn’t like it, it wasn’t necessarily because they were wrong: It was, in my mind at least, because the work I had published was bad.

A year and a half later, I’m realizing that’s not the case. This reader-writer community doesn’t go out of its way to shit on something by an unknown, unpublished writer. Instead, every time I get pinged because someone liked a post I put up on Convincing the Muse, I want to put just a few more words on the page. It’s encouraging, and it’s community.