(Author’s note: Think of this post as a Public Service Announcement for writers.)
I really like to follow rules.
So, when I hear or read advice like Jane Yolen’s oft-repeated, if you want to be a writer, get your “butt in chair,” I take it to heart.
Okay, I sort of, kind of tend to overdo things, but I have been known to spend hours without moving significantly, sitting still while I type words into my laptop, because Jane Yolen says that’s what I’m supposed to do.
And then a study was released claiming, “sitting is the new smoking.” (Dr. Anup Kanodia, as reported in the New York Daily News, May 27, 2013.) And even worse, the same article reports that Dr. James Levine, endocrinologist at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine says, “The chair is out to kill us.” According to the article, “[R]esearchers in Australia discovered that serial sitting slows the metabolism and increases the risk of a heart attack and stroke.”
This is not good news. With all due respect to Ms. Yolen, I now needed to do something that would get me out of the chair. But what?
Chris Hamilton posted a suggestion for overcoming this “butt in chair” issue, suggesting we stand when we write. (Florida Writer’s Conference Blog, July 12, 2013). However, elevating my laptop on a contraption is too complicated and potentially catastrophic.
I had to face the facts. I needed to do some cardio. If there was only a way to combine the workouts with writing my novel (see above, where I note my tendency to overdo things).
First, I tried studying writing while I did cardio. I downloaded craft books on creative writing, intending to listen to them while I was working out. No surprise, but this approach quickly proved to be less than inspiring. So I switched to listening to audiobooks, which seemed like a good idea at first, but I kept losing track of where I was in the story. Perhaps I wasn’t exercising often enough to remember what had happened during my last workout session.
I know music inspires a workout, but calculating beats per minute and adjusting the intensity of my workout accordingly was beyond me. But then … I hit upon the solution: The “amuse me” playlist.
The playlist is not about songs that have a certain number of beats per minutes – that’s not the kind of thing that motivates a writer to move. No, my playlist is full of songs whose lyrics amuse me. They don’t just make me laugh, although there’s some of that in the selection of songs to my list. They also make me think more about some element of writing.
So, in the interest of helping my writer friends get out of their chairs for a little while, I share some of my playlist here, with a reason why I think it amuses me.
Makes Me Laugh: “Don’t Cha,” by the Pussycat Dolls, sometimes makes me laugh out loud with its lyrics, which ask, “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend were hot like me?” (Lyrics by Busta Rhymes, Cee-Lo Green, and Sir Mix-A-Lot.) Has anyone ever said this to someone? If so, let me know how it went. In the same vein, Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend also makes me laugh.
Clever: “Fairy Tale,” by Sara Bareilles, is a song whose lyrics take on popular fairy tales and question the “happily ever after” premise? What’s not to love about a song that has lyrics like, “Snow White is doing dishes again ‘cause what else could you do/ With seven itty bitty men?”
Surprises Me: Country music is great for telling the s/he wronged me story. Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” has lyrics that made me think about how we present less-than-socially-acceptable behavior (revenge that results in damage to property) in art: “I dug my key into the side / of his pretty little souped up 4 wheel drive, / carved my name into his leather seats.../ … Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats.” (Written by Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear.)
Elements of Good Storytelling: Taylor Swift is known for telling a good story in her songs (and she’s incredibly popular with the audience we’re aiming to reach – just ask my 12-year old niece). In “You Belong With Me,” Swift totally captures characterization so easily in just a few words: “She wears high heels, I wear sneakers / She's Cheer Captain and I'm on the bleachers.” (Written by Liz Rose and Taylor Swift.)
Elements of Poetry: Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves – well, enough said. (Written by Kimberly Rew.) And it has a good beat.
(Thank you, free downloads from Starbucks, for introducing me to songs I’d never otherwise hear of.)
Please share your “amuse me” songs in the comments.
Gina DiCiani is a January, 2014 graduate of the Hamline MFAC program. She lives and writes and moves in the Chicago, Illinois area.