If the phrase "writer's block" seems like a way of life to you, you're not alone.
And if you try to circumvent your problem by reading all your favorite books and hoping inspiration will come to you, that's normal too.
But what if, in the rush to read as much Kafka and Voltaire as possible and let it soak into your brains, you've missed another obvious source of inspiration?
In light of Kendrick Lamar's recent Pulitzer Prize win, I've been thinking about the ways music can be inspirational to writers, and how it's been a tool to me in my own journey. The first personal essay I ever had published was inspired by a song by the band Heartless Bastards. Sure, I always had the story in me, but it took the deeply personal chord that the song struck to dig the story out of myself.
That was a few years ago, but I still allow music to guide me when I'm feeling stuck — I actually have an entire "writing" playlist on Spotify just for this very reason. I like music with a modern, jazzy feel to it, like St. Germain or Bonobo, but sometimes it depends on my mood or the type of writing I'm doing. If I'm writing something angsty I'll put on some Chelsea Wolfe, and I love throwing some Radiohead in the mix too.
If you're someone who can't listen to music with words while you're working, I have a few favorite soundtracks as well — I'm a big fan of Hans Zimmer's original scores, particularly Interstellar and Inception.
What are your favorite songs or genres to listen to while writing? I always love a good recommendation!
I've got all the publishing news and updates for you, but first, here's a fantasy for you...
Imagine clean, airy shelves, the perfect book found right away, a sense of calm to go with your literary pursuits.
Yet of course, if you're any kind of a serious book lover, that's nowhere near your reality. Books stacked on every available space is more like it. Your living space is getting smaller, your cohabitants are getting angrier, and you're starting to develop a serious dust allergy.
In honor of spring, we're going to do away with the clutter and usher in a new age of...well not quite airy bookshelves, but as close to it as any book lover can get.
Today I'm going to take you through the process I went through when I moved into my new office, and which I will likely go through again now that we're entering warmer weather (and my office is slowly reaching book avalanche-level).
So there are two major steps to this process: Cleaning out the shelves, and then reorganizing the shelves.
Cleaning out bookshelves is both daunting and terrifying — it forces us to confront the safety of "I'll read this eventually." But that's how we end up with giant piles of books that we just can't — and won't — read. So how do you start cleaning out your shelves?
Divide and Conquer
Over the years, I've tried countless approaches to cleaning out my shelves — tossing as I go, doing the Marie Kondo thing, you name it — but nothing is as effective as creating piles. Start by creating the first two piles right off the bat, and the third one is an empty box at this point.
Pile One: Books I've Read
Pile Two: Books I Haven't Read
Pile Three: Books I'm Willing to Give a Loving Goodbye
Then, I divide those down even further. If you've read a book and love it enough to reread it, keep it. If you've read a book and probably won't reread it, but still loved it and admired it, keep it. If you read a book and hated it, and have kept it just to seethe at, go ahead and put it in the goodbye pile. You won't miss it, I promise.
Pile One: Books I've Read
- Did you love it? Will you reread it? Keep it.
- Did you love it? Do you not think you'll reread it? Gently place it in the goodbye pile.
- Did you hate it? WHY DO YOU STILL HAVE IT, THROW IT IN THAT GOODBYE PILE NOW.
The second pile is usually the harder one. This is where I start asking myself some questions, like "What does 'eventually' really mean?" If you've had a book for years and only kind of like the idea of it, and always pick up another book over that one — toss it. Something I like to do is pretend I'm moving and only have a few suitcases. Is this five-year-old copy of a book you only read the first 30 pages of really worth the overweight baggage fee?
Pile Two: Books I Haven't Read
- Have you had the book longer than three years? Read the flap copy; are you excited to read it? If so, keep it, if not, go ahead and get it in that goodbye pile.
- Be ruthless here, this is the moment that you will thank yourself for later when you feel calm instead of anxious when looking at your shelves.
On Organizing Your Books...
Now before we get to the painful moment of dealing with pile three, let's start getting your beloved books back on the shelves. This is the moment where you have a lot of different options: color coding, alphabetizing, organizing by genre...it's all at your disposal. What I can say is that if you have to reference your books a lot, by genre is definitely best. There are many times when I'm on the phone with a writer and want to reference a humorous memoir, but I have to do it quickly or else leave them sitting on the phone in silence. Luckily I have a whole section of memoirs, and I've even grouped the humorous ones together within the section. If I were really OCD and had a lot of time on my hands I might go alpha by author within the genre section, but that's for another day.
Pile Three: Don't Toss, Donate
I know, the idea of getting rid of books just seems heartbreaking, but think of it less like "getting rid" and more like "passing it on." Here's where you make even more piles. Find the books that you know some of your friends would like, or your family. Maybe the book you hated is exactly the type of book your coworker loves.
Are the shelves at your local library looking a little sparse? Give your books a second life by donating them. Or, sell them, and buy some beautiful statement pieces that draw the eyes toward your newly organized shelves.
Okay, but what if you have ARCs and galleys — those definitely can't be sold, and while some libraries take donations for summer programs and giveaways, not all of them do (it's always good to ask, though!). Pass them on to a local school — their teachers are almost always underfunded and looking for new materials. Or, send them to a prison. Prisons are trying to implement literacy and education programs, but they don't have much funding either. They'll take the ARCs you never got around to reading and put them to good use. If all else fails, there are tons of charities that accept them -- this article from YA Highway lists a few.
And, the most important tip? Do what feels right. You'll know deep down which ones are keepers, and which ones you just have to say goodbye to.