MUSIC: Being a Writer Playlist

A brief playlist that strikes at the heart of some of my feelings about writing and being a writer…

Being a Writer Music

  1. Marina and the Diamonds – Oh No!
  2. Jason Walker – Down
  3. Sky Ferreira – Obsession

Last summer, I listened to “Oh No!” on repeat, all summer. It was the purest distillation I’d found of my entire psychology of being a writer: the desire not to achieve fame or money, just success, that undefinable feeling of getting it ‘right’ somehow. Of knowing, in my heart, that I’d achieved what I wanted. It also struck the fear of utter failure, and the inability to value life for the same reasons other people do: family, friends, relationships. The fact that I sometimes feel like a robot, being so focused entirely on what I want. (That’s a recurring motif in Marina’s lyrics, too, the idea that knowing what you want and focusing your life on it makes you “[walk] like a machine”.)

And as a side note, “TV taught me how to feel / and now real life has no appeal” also strikes a lot of notes in me. But that’s an entirely different story.

When a friend gave me an extra copy of her Vampire Diaries OST, I looked forward to giving it a listen. I’ve never seen the show, but I knew that the Twilight soundtracks had always been brilliant, so I threw it on my iPod and gave it a few listens over the course of a few weeks. And weirdly enough, two particular tracks stood out as embodiments of the uglier sides to my hopes and dreams.

“I thought I could fly, so why did I drown?”

“Down”  is a heartbreaking song for me. It’s not a song about a breakup or grief (at least as I read it): it’s about unrealised potential, of ambition squandered and hopes lost. It’s about the feeling of fighting for something for your whole life and still never achieving your dreams. It’s about coming to that point in your life, after years of failure, where you have to decide whether or not to abandon the very things you’ve wanted, worked towards, for your whole life. This song really represents my worst fears as a writer: the idea of fighting with all of my energy for as long as I can, only to be swept away by the current and drown in an un-extraordinary life.

“So, here’s my confession… I don’t just want you to love me. I want to be your obsession.”

If “Down” taps into my fears, then “Obsession” is a reminder of my hubris. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with an ordinary life. It’s unbecoming for a writer to express feelings like this, particularly one with no real credits under his name; it gets you branded an egotistical asshole or worse. But the character whom I most identify as an artist, in recent history, is Glee‘s Rachel: as obnoxious as she is, she works as hard as she possibly can, and can’t even imagine settling for another other than stardom. I can’t say I have Lea Michele‘s talent (or rather, the equivalent in writing), but in terms of wanting it, not a single person who knows me could accuse me of not wanting it hard enough, or not working myself to the bone to get there.

There is nothing humble about the life I want. I want to blow people’s socks off and inspire them. I want to change how people see the world. I want to create characters that people can’t forget if they try. I want to be a Joss Whedon, a Shawn Ryan, a Steven Moffat.

I can apologise for the arrogance that makes me think I could ever get it, but I know better than to ever apologise for wanting it.

When I’m feeling particularly confident, I listen to this song to remind me of what it feels like to know you can get everything you’ve ever wanted.

When I’m feeling too confident, I listen to it as a reminder of how ugly hubris can look, of how over-the-top my desire becomes. A spectacle, a hundred feet of fireworks screaming in what looks a lot like desperation.

So, those are my being a writer songs. What about you? What’s your playlist, and what do your songs bring out in you?

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