Nothing inspires me to write as music does. The intensity of raw emotion which saturates the lyrics and melodies of artists such as Tori Amos lights a proverbial wildfire under my pen. Whether I’m listening to my iPod at the gym, playing vinyl on the turntable while washing dishes at home or seeing a live show, music is a palpable energy that diverts my waking mind to its subconscious—the cabbage patch from which ideas are cultivated (and the inner critic muzzled). This is reverie: the dream space. Robert Olen Butler, in his book From Where You Dream, describes the place we need to go to create:
“Art does not come from ideas. Art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where you dream. Art comes from your unconscious; it comes from the white-hot center of you.”
A small brick building on Milton Avenue in Syracuse, New York houses a hidden gem: Singers Karaoke Club. It’s a place, as its tag line reads, which encourages you to “let your rock star shine.” For the regulars who frequent Singers—many of whom are my best friends and biggest supporters—this home away from home is kind of like Cheers…with microphones.
Over the years I’ve been told by countless writers and mentors that in order to create a successful story, the author must first be thoroughly acquainted with her characters. As I step onto that stage at Singers, I choose to become a certain character that I’ve created. When I clutch that microphone between my sweaty palms, I am no longer Kaitlin Keller, graduate student; I am transformed into the spirit of whichever character I wish to explore as I absorb and emit his energy. I dwell behind his eyes and immerse myself into his psyche. Okay, so I may have to use my imagination quite a bit, but in our profession that shouldn’t be a stretch. The trick is to let the music carry you into your dream space.
And if you’re having trouble formulating your own characters, a karaoke bar is an enchanting well of unique, idiosyncratic personalities.
Listening to others sing karaoke exposes me to different artists, songs, or genres of music that may potentially influence my writing. Occasionally the shy girl sitting at the end of the bar will begin belting a tune that speaks to me or my story world.
While music never fails to spark my imagination, karaoke inspires me by drawing me into my dream space. So at closing time when I go home and sit at my computer, I am prepared to write the character whose voice will not be still.