Last week, I went to The Writing Barn for a writing residency for young adult and middle grade authors with Nova Ren Suma. I had an amazing experience. I got to work with nine other young adult/middle grade writers (all of which were very talented and lovely people in general), attend several craft lectures given by other authors where we talked about everything from world building to writing great openings to character development. The atmosphere at the Writing Barn was incredible. It was so quiet and peaceful, there were lots of places to sit outside and write, there were even four or five deer always scampering around. I wrote about 12,000 words total last week, and I basically spent every moment writing, talking about writing, talking to other writers. It was amazing.
My work in progress is a time travel story that focuses a lot on a mother/daughter relationship. Music plays a big part in the novel. None of the characters are musicians, but they all have a unique love for music that ties in with their ability to time travel, and one of the themes of the novel is the importance of embracing who you really are. In my first version of the story, though, I shied away from making music an important part of my novel.
Everything I write is about music in some way, it seems. My play, THE SPINS, is about a musician. My debut young adult novel, WE OWN THE SKY, is about a musician. I was afraid people would get sick of it, and I was trying to tone down the music in my current work in progress because of that.
It's funny how the things we write mirror what is going on in our own lives. One of my characters needs to embrace who she is, and I need to embrace who I am. I decided that I shouldn't shy away from making music an important part of this novel. Maybe it's okay that music is such an important part of everything I write because music is an important part of who I am. I might not be an active musician who plays shows these days, but I still think in terms of music. I'm still the person who is secretly identifying the song and the artist every time there is background music playing in a restaurant. I'm still the person whose understands other people better when I know what their favorite albums, songs, or musicians are. I'm still the person who started a YouTube channel to talk about books and writing and had to squeeze a weekly video series about music in there. I'm still the person who listens to music in the shower and makes playlists every day.
It's true that not everyone wants to read about music or musicians. Not everyone will connect with that kind of story. But this is true of any story or subject matter. Some authors like to write about vampires. Some authors like to write about witches. Some authors like to write about romance. We all write about the things that matter to us. And some people will connect with our stories, and some won't. And that's okay! The beautiful thing about books is that there will definitely be at least one story out there that speaks to every person in this world. So why can't I be an author who likes to write about music and the different ways it affects us?
One of the best things I learned last week was that I need to shift my focus back to the actual work. So much of being an artist--whether you are a writer, a musician, an actor, a painter--is about luck, being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people. Over the past couple of years, I've had so much focus on getting my book published. There is so much in the world of publishing that is beyond my control. But I do have control over the work itself. Writing. Creating. At the end of the week, we painted rocks and wrote a word on our rocks that symbolized what we gained from the residency. (My rock is pictured above. My word was create.) But it's when we embrace who we are and what kinds of things we like to paint or write or sing that we can truly be creative. So that's what I've been trying to do. And maybe I don't have a book traditionally published yet, and maybe I didn't ever "make it" with my band, and maybe I will always have to do other work to make a living, but you know what? I'll always be writing. No matter what. And there's a good chance that someone in my stories will have a guitar.