Growing up my father would sing and play guitar to put me and my brother to sleep. Amidst the classic rock standards (The Stones, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin) he also played a lot of his own material. My dad’s a gifted musician and lyricist and to me, listening to him play as I dropped off to sleep, there was never a drop in quality when he would switch back and forth between McCartney to Lennon to himself to Robert Plant. Even now as an adult I still believe that.
Dad’s songs had great melodies and lyrics but an overwhelming majority of them were about heartache. Think ‘Angie’ by the Rolling Stones, mix in ‘Yesterday’ and you’re getting close to the level of angst my dad imbued his songs with. Remember, he wrote these songs as a teenage boy, long before he fell in love with my mother, and as the saying goes he wrote what he knew. One night after listening him sing one of his more passionate songs about a woman who had cast him aside coldly and cruelly, I had to ask:
“Jeez dad, what did this girl do to you?”
“Oh,” he said with a shrug as he adjusted his guitar strings. “I asked her out to a movie and she said no.”
He asked her out to a movie and she said no. I might not have inherited my father’s musical skill but I think I have got his ability to take a minor slight and mine it for the deepest reaches of human emotion. For example, the other day there was a ten dollar charge on my Visa card that should not have been there. I did everything I could to try and take care of it, but in the end I had to just swallow the loss and write off that ten bucks. Argh! Once I got off the phone with the bank, I started writing. Time to put some characters in peril. After all, If I had to feel vaguely uncomfortable, then my characters were really going to suffer, damnit!
And it worked. I was having trouble with that scene in particular, but once I amped up my character’s discomfort I felt a lot of more present in the story. Before that there was no real anchor, physically or mentally, to ground me. Once I saw my frustration as a tool rather than an obstacle I was flying.
I’ve written stuff when I’ve been working through grief or pain, when my fiction seemed pale and lifeless compared to the real life going on around me. While writing can be a great way to work through big things, it’s also fun to just take small, ultimately inconsequential things- being turned down for a date, an unexpected charge on your credit card- and use it to write a melodramatic EPIC love song/fantasy story.