My Top 10 Songs About Writing – #ToWriteTo

My iPod includes several songs which are either directly or indirectly about writing. For whatever reason, they inspire me to keep going with my writing projects.

Here’s my list, in hopes that you’ll add yours (here or on twitter with #ToWriteTo). I need some new tunes!

1. Open Book by Cake – While I realize this is a song about more than a woman writing a novel–it’s about the pursuit of love–the writing theme still steals the show!

Cake - Album Cover for Fashion Nugget

Cake – Album Cover for Fashion Nugget

2. Rewrite by Paul Simon. Again, he’s really singing about rewriting his life but it’s so easy to take this one literally as well. So I do. Because the work of rewriting is enough of a pain that it needs a theme song!

Album Cover of So Beautiful or So What

Album Cover of So Beautiful or So What

3. Crazy by Seal. I referenced this song in my recent post about how I’ve tried to take my writing commitment to the next level.

Previous Post: But Are You Willing to Get Crazy? 20 Ways to Sacrifice More to Be a Writer

The Single Crazy by Seal

The Single Crazy by Seal

4. Lose Yourself by Eminem. I’m a lightweight so I do have to listen to the clean version. But you can’t listen to this and not be ready to fight for your dream. Or at least I can’t.

Cover of Lose Yourself Single

Cover of the Lose Yourself Single

5. Make It Happen by Mariah Carey. I swallowed my pride to include this guilty pleasure. I can’t deny that when I listen to this, I do indeed want to work toward my dream and make it happen.

Yes, it’s over-the-top and dramatic when she refers to doing without things in order to make it as a singer, but then, I let her get away with it because it certainly can feel dramatic like that, putting this song in the same vein as my whole Seal-and-sacrificing-for-writing kick (see #3).

Album Cover for Emotions

Album Cover for Emotions

Tower of Song

Cover of I’m Your Man

5.  Tower of Song by Leonard Cohen. Because describing oneself as paying rent in the Tower of Song, or in this case the Tower of Writing, is great imagery for the often reclusive experience of doing something artistic.

I especially love these lines:

“I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long

A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song…”

Full lyrics

6. Every Day I Write the Book by Elvis Costello. He’s singing about love through the analogy of writing a book but it has an endearing duality of meaning to those of us who truly are–every day!–writing books.

Cover of Punch the Clock

Cover of Punch the Clock

7. When You Wish Upon a Star by Louis Armstrong. Yeah!!!! Disney songs never sounded so good. This version may finally convince you that the universe is on your side and fulfilling your wishes, however meanderingly. Note: I believe part of wishing is working as hard as you can and not just wishing on stars.

Cover for Disney the Satchmo Way

Cover for Disney the Satchmo Way

9. Young at Heart by Frank Sinatra, Micahel Buble, and others. This song’s lyrics deserves quoting in full:

Cover of To Be Loved

Cover of To Be Loved

“Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you
If you’re young at heart.
For it’s hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind
If you’re young at heart.

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes.
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams.
And life gets more exciting with each passing day.
And love is either in your heart, or on its way.

Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart.
For as rich as you are, it’s much better by far
To be young at heart.

And if you should survive to 105,
Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive!
And here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart.”

10. Anything else pertaining to my current project. Right now I’m writing about Iceland so naturally I listen to Of Monsters and Men at least ten times a day!

Cover of My Head is An Animal

Cover of My Head is An Animal

So now for your writer-worthy tracks, be they about writing or not so much.

You could post what works for you to have on in the background, for example. My votes on that subject are Fleet Foxes and David Gray. Leave a comment here or use the twitter hashtag #ToWriteTo. Go!

Writing Characters Who Are Female, Not Females Who Are Characters

Characters I enjoy reading about are written for their personality and decisions first and foremost. On the other hand, I do not think I have ever fallen in love with characters who were described primarily by their gender stereotypes.

Maybe when I was five, watching Aurora, Snow White, and Cinderella as interpreted by Disney but I’ll get to that in a minute.

This is part of my series of posts on How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters

Distinguishing Attributes from Character

Write someone with a good personality–which could be benevolent or evil!–and it doesn’t really matter whether they are male or female. Brunette or blonde. Gay or straight. Any race. You get the picture. Those are attributes and subsets of a character’s full self.

Thoughts. Conflicts. Experiences. Relationships. Quirks. Choices. Weaknesses. Inner philosophies. I mean, think of the most interesting person in your whole life. Would they be just as interesting if they were a different gender? Of course.

For that reason, I say if you want to write a vivid and well-rounded female character, don’t obsess over the fact that she’s female.

To my delight, the fabulous Neil Gaiman agrees. When asked about writing female characters he said the following as quoted on a site called The Mary Sue:

“I always feel like the wrong person to be asked when I get asked that question because people say, ‘Well how do you write such good female characters?’ And I go, ‘Well I write people.’ Approximately half of the people I know are female and they’re cool, and they’re interesting, and so, why wouldn’t I?”

And thus Mr. Gaiman deftly revealed himself to be, in my book, the perfect person to answer that question. Interestingly, though, Gaiman does believe books end up taking on a gender of their own. I’ll have to think about that one.

Assumptions Versus Articulation: Don’t Be Lazy!

While gender may inform aspects of the characters we write, my opinion is that the more it does, the less developed that character tends to be. Gender stereotypes allow an author to plaster the reader with assumptions about their character, rather than doing the work of articulating who this person is as a distinct individual.

That’s pretty much the lazy way out!

You have to earn the right to intrigue readers, by working to know a character’s inner workings. If you don’t know them, your reader won’t know them, and not knowing usually means not being intrigued enough to care about what happens to them.

A Poor Example from Among the Disney Ladies

Princess Aurora of Sleeping Beauty.  This character has been revisited in later works, but I’m referring to the first Disney movie.

Princess_aurora_disney

Promotional Image from Disney

She wore a pink dress. She was lovely and sang with birds. She was saved by a really good kiss. I feel Princess Aurora was written as a female and not much else. She’s a stock representative of prevailing feminine stereotypes.

What are her weaknesses? What’s going on in her head? She could be anyone in there! Would you want to eat lunch with her and have a conversation? Who knows?!

She’s a main character so why do we not know what makes her tick beyond the fact that she doesn’t like being locked up unable to talk to strangers and she has a thing for handsome princes? Hardly distinguishing traits.

A Better Example from Disney Characters

Mulan. Yes, I love that she was a more proactive personality who cross-dressed and got the job done! But she was also just written better.

Promotional Image from Disney

Promotional Image from Disney

We know oodles about this rad character from seeing her family interactions, her reaction to cultural expectations, her problem-solving, her motivation to save her family’s honor (and China!), what she says no to, what she says yes to, what scares her, what impresses her, and on and on.

Writing the What, Why, and How

The point is, maybe a particular character should be written as a more passive personality like Aurora. The problem isn’t the character, it’s how the character is written. With Aurora, we hardly get the ‘what’ of who she is let alone the ‘why’ she is that way or ‘how’ her personality manifests itself. Instead, we see manifestation after manifestation that Aurora is female.

It’s odd, really!

As I’ve composed this, I’ve really tried to think of a situation when you would want to write a nondescript female main character (or a male one for that matter). In art I feel there are always exceptions so I have to be open to that but I couldn’t concoct one. If you have or if you have anything else to say about all this, please leave a comment!

This is part of my series of posts on How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters

Why I’m Pretty Much Anti-Princess These Days

Image of PRINCESS SOPHIE OF BAVARIA by Josef Kriehuber

PRINCESS SOPHIE OF BAVARIA by Josef Kriehuber

I have been as entertained by princess and prince stories as anyone, but I am fundamentally at odds with these stories and wonder what the world might be like without so many of them.

What-if-ing is always a tricky game to play, because who’s to say what subtle benefits I’ve reaped from being raised in a princess culture? But trying to think of what some of those benefits might be this morning yielded…nothing.

I don’t like elitism.

I don’t like the ideas of falsely deriving self-esteem from preeminence or life conditions.

I don’t like extremist portrayals of the masculine or feminine.

It’s interesting that so many of our stories have kids (and adults) identify with characters that are a step above everyone else, in the name of escape.

I’m more tolerant of superhero and hero stories, though sometimes I tire of how many stories are about ‘chosen’ characters such as Harry Potter. This is still a step above princess and prince stories, though, because at least we’re talking about an ability or power of the individual.

Sometimes I still argue with myself that those super-abilities were usually given the character rather than earned, just like being born to royalty.

Disney and others have made strides in stories like Mulan, but the princess motif is still teeming. At a recent writer’s conference, I was bummed that nearly every female panelist had written primarily princess stories.

There’s of course not necessarily a lack of value in some of the more innovative princess stories, but did it have to be a princess story? It just gets old.

It seems to me some of our sense of disappointment with life can arise from an imbalance in this kind of dreaming and conditioning.

But at the end of the day, everyone should write what they want to write. I just hope more people who don’t want to write princess stories will find the time to write. 🙂