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Writing Prompt # 7

June 14, 2010

It’s Monday, which means it’s time to kick-start your writing with another prompt.  Today I’d like to let you in on my favorite exercise: a sort of musical meditation.  Here’s how it works.

Clear 5 minutes from your schedule.  Remove distractions.  Put in earbuds or, if you’ve got ’em, noise-canceling headphones.  Adjust your sound system’s volume to “overwhelming but not unbearable.”  Now close your eyes and start playing a song.  Try to let the song completely take over your brain.  Actively listen to the song lyrics, if any.  See what images or scenes come to mind.  Don’t censor the images or try to school them to make more sense, just let them play out like a dream on the backs of your eyelids.  When the song is over, write down what you saw, in as much detail as possible.

Some songs work better for this kind of thing than others.  It’s not important that you like the song, or that it be of the genre you normally listen to.  What’s important is that the song contain some sort of tension or drama (smooth jazz probably isn’t going to cut it).  It should either be an instrumental piece or something with unusual lyrics.  By unusual, I mean something other than the usual “I love you; why don’t you love me” or “Hey everybody, listen to how great I am” kind of stuff you hear on top 40 stations.  There should be an implied story in the lyrics that arrests your attention or completely baffles you.

That’s not to say hit pop songs can’t work for this exercise.  A couple of my selections for today either are hit pop songs or were during their time.  But if you get as addicted to this exercise as I am you’ll eventually find yourself wandering off the beaten path, looking for stranger and stranger songs to give you more and more surreal and fantastic brain-movies.

One word of caution: if you do this exercise often enough you’ll find yourself doing it by accident sometimes, which can be dangerous if you’re listening to the radio on the freeway during rush hour.  Consider yourself warned.

When you have your five minutes clear to try this exercise, pick one of the links below (either at random or by description) and close your eyes before you click it, to remove the temptation to pre-judge based on the name of the artist or song.  Try it first with your eyes closed.  If nothing much is happening, try it again while watching the video.  If you have an extremely visual brain, you may need to rely on the videos to jump-start you at first, but try closing your eyes the next time you listen to a song and see if you’ve gotten the hang of making your own images.

Song Prompts:

Grief & whiskey

Erotic techno-drama (there may be a brief commercial before this one, sorry.)

Exhilarating safari

Urban nostalgia

Tribal paranoia

Enjoy your weird mental journey, and if the exercise works for you, be sure to share your experiences in Comments.  Next week, Justin returns with more story seeds!

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