NOTE: I met Annia Napier, a young writer in Rapid City, around Christmas of 2020 after her aunt reached out to me, asking if she could pay for her niece to receive a writing coach session from me. Annia, then 15, had completed the draft of one novel and was cranking away on the second. But apart from her supportive family, she didn’t have anyone with whom she could really talk writing and explore the often evasive mysteries of the creative process.
Fast-forward to the present, and I have a working relationship with a young writer who is as hungry to learn about writing as she is persistent in her charge to continually get better. In Annia, I see myself as a teenager. I recognize the determination and uncertainty, the dogged desire to succeed and the importance of receiving persistent encouragement from the adults in her midst.
Were it not for the few adults who believed in me and my passion as a teenager, I never would have pursued writing as a career. It would have been too easy to throw in the towel, convince myself that I wasn’t good enough to succeed, tell myself that no one cared about what I wrote, anyway.
Annia’s creative energy, curiosities about life and incredible self-motivation are refreshing and inspirational. In this month’s blog post, she explores how music is a tool that opens new doors to creative endeavors and possibilities. What resonates with you?
What made you decide you want to write?
If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance you’ve been asked this question.
I don’t hesitate with my answer. I write because of music.
Music means many things to many people. Listening to an uplifting tune on a gloomy day can change your attitude completely, making it feel like the sun rises just for you. Turning on a powerful song can help you endure difficult times. I love to play music that fits my current mood, because with music I feel more complete. Music, I’m pretty sure, understands me.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.”
No matter how old you are, where you’re from, or what language you speak, you can be touched by music. Often, music can even speak to us in ways that words cannot.
Have you ever experienced music so extraordinary and stunning it gives you goosebumps or puts tears in your eyes? This has happened to me many times, and I never get tired of it. Sometimes, it is in these magical moments for me where big-brain ideas begin to spark. When I listen to a new melody that moves me in unexpected ways, I long for the experience again, and I add the song to my array of playlists.
Many of my ideas come during the night. When I can’t sleep, I’ll turn on a tune. As I lay back with the headphones over my ears, whole worlds will literally open up. My mind can’t be still. It’s as if the music demands scenes to be choreographed with it.
Is this torture? Not exactly. In a way, I’d call it a gift.
Music is constant. It is always near me. I welcome it when I’m looking out a car window, watching the outside world pass by. I welcome it as background noise in a busy restaurant and at gatherings of friends and family.
I used to listen to music with lyrics. But now, when I am hungry for story ideas, I almost always listen to instrumental music for inspiration. When I’m building a world no one else can see but me, I lean on instrumental music to help inspire the character development in whatever it is I’m working on. The music helps me to connect with my characters’ emotions. I can get to know them on a deeper level. This concentrated creative time helps me to make my scenes and action come alive. I can dig deep, even if I find I am lacking the words to explain what is happening in a particular scene or what struggle a character is having. In the moment, the music explains it for me. I let the story unfold before me, and I allow the music to inform might happen next.
I might see a battle breaking out between a protagonist and a villain when I listen to intense, bass-heavy music where one beat seems to leap over the other as if they were in competition. During a crisp piano solo or a doleful choir of violins, I might imagine the hero’s love-interest on the brink of death—the moment where the hero hits rock bottom. Harmonious voices backed by bold, glorious drums and a cacophony of instruments might lead to all characters standing together, united.
My favorite part of any song is the intense instrumental build-up that seems to place the listener on an emotional rollercoaster. You ride that rollercoaster until, BANG! You’re struck with the most beautiful, impeccable and unexplainable moment in the melody, and you can’t think of anything except how the goosebumps crawl all over your arms and legs. And although this is the time where I try to sit still, it’s nearly impossible for me. How can I remain unmovable after hearing a moment of music that rocks the very core of my soul? It’s too good to be true when the music, the idea and the imaginary scene come together perfectly. That is where the gift is.
All that matters in that moment is that I capture the scene, the character dialogue, the movement – whatever sparks of creativity the music gifted me – before I drift off to sleep and forget all about it.
One of my biggest fears is losing all of my work to a sudden malfunction or even to a hacker deleting all the words that took hours upon hours of time and energy-draining work to write. Sometimes, I regret not writing an idea down.
If you have an idea worth keeping, write it down immediately. You don’t want to start working on your project one day and realize you should have kept that single idea, but it’s already fallen into the void of your memories, long forgotten. Don’t trust yourself enough to remember the ideas on your own. Trust me, it’s one of the worst experiences to assure yourself you’ll remember an idea when you need it (without writing it down), only to realize that, when you do need it, it has eluded you. It is the most helpless feeling to realize that the one idea you never wrote down would have been the perfect solution to connect all the dots. What’s more, when you don’t write the idea down right away, you’ll never remember it the same way it came to you originally.
Your ideas are not songs. You can’t play them over again whenever you feel like it. You can’t listen to them the same way you heard them the first time.
Music is a gift that can nourish a creative spirit. Be ready for surprise, for suspense, for unexpected turns along your writing journey. Because when the muse gets to work, there’s no telling what might happen.