Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's Your Theme Song?

All week I've had a song stuck in my head.  Usually this can be ultra-annoying, especially if it's the jingle to a product I don't use, or it's something truly awful like, "The Wheels on the Bus" sending me instantly back to kindergarten and the smell of tempera paint and the brown vinyl mats we used for naptime (ah, naptime).  On the good days, however, a certain song or piece of music seems to help me glide through my days, filling me with the urge to create and make sense of my life.  That's how it's been for me these last few days.

It started on Sunday night.  I was listening to the radio when I really should have been sound asleep (no wonder I want to nap all the time).  Just before I drifted off, I heard a few lines from the Cat Stevens' song If You Want to Sing Out from the film, Harold and MaudeNot only did the song make me even more wide awake than I already was, it made me suddenly obsessed with the thought that I had never seen that movie.  Worse still, I wondered why I hadn't heard any Cat Stevens' songs for years and years.  The song then dissolved into an ad, but not before it was firmly installed in my brain and I knew I was going to have a difficult job getting rid of it.

By Monday afternoon I was still humming along.  I'd also done a bit of online Cat Stevens research, looking at pictures of his own cat and reading the entire story of how he became Yusuf Islam, which of course was very interesting, but by now I was ready to move on, nice song or not.  The tune was on the verge of becoming downright irritating, and I had to get to the real reason for why I kept hearing it.  So I went to the place that always helps me out:  my journal.  After a few false starts the answer was very obvious:  the song reminded me of being a teenager, and my current WIP is about--teenagers.  Duh. 

As I continued to listen, I could hear the sound of all the emotions and hopes and dreams teens have always had, no matter their decade or century.  As a writer of young adult fiction, I believe that no matter how hard their cynical veneer can sometimes be, young people are essentially optimistic and eager to explore the world.  The possibilities of what they'll become are endless, and that's what I'm trying to express in my latest WIP.  At the same time, I realized the song was telling me what I could do as a writer and artist, too.  The song's lyrics are all about how you can do anything you want to do, the perfect message for both me and my characters. 

Rather than being sick of the tune, I'm grateful to have discovered what has become my book's "theme song."  It's one I can use every time I get stuck or veer away from my plot too far.  Of course, I can't actually use the lyrics in my book, but that's okay too--in fact it's even better.  Having a little song to inspire me will find it's own way to appear through my characters' thoughts and actions.  It's a nice piece of "inside information" and I have every reason to believe it appeared for the good.  Writing is full of lucky happenings, and music can be a very helpful source to make sure you get plenty of those happy occurrences.

Tip of the Day:  The first time I tried writing to music was in the fourth grade.  Our teacher put on some classical music and left us free to create, a wonderful experience I've never forgotten.  Yet it's also something I don't do enough, and I miss it.  Over the next few days, experiment with some music you don't usually listen to.  Set the radio to an unfamiliar station and try a timed writing, either as part of your current WIP, or an entirely new freewriting exercise.  Have fun--you may be very surprised at what happens.