by Tess Adair
I spent the weekend reviewing chapters 2 and 3 of the novel. Unsurprisingly, reading the novel is a little like inducing one long flashback. After all, the last time I spent so much time confined to my house, seeing very few people, typing at my laptop for hours with only calculated breaks for cardio and self-contained entertainment...was when I was writing the damn thing.
Back when I was writing it, in the adorable cottage-style house on Brightling where I lived with my mom for a year, I kept the kind of regimented schedule you can only have when your time is entirely your own.
Actually, the regimented schedule began as a part of my diet. I’d tried enough “diets” in middle and high school that I didn’t want to waste any more time trying to follow special tricks. I just wanted to know the math of it. I found out that, on average, a female person needs to consume about 1500 calories a day to maintain her current weight. To lose, she needs to consume less than that. I decided to start by seeing if I could get myself down to 1200 a day. (This number fluctuated over time as I kept the diet going, but this is where it began.) To make sure I met this number goal, I started planning my meals. Every one of them. Meticulously. I would go to the store and look at the calorie count of every single item I considered buying and figure out exactly how much of it I could eat at each meal. I allowed breakfast to be the highest calorie meal of the day, partly to make sure I never had to give up coffee.
So my writing regimen began with breakfast. I’d get up around 9:30am and sit down for coffee, milk, 1-2 crumpets (alternating days,) two veggie sausages, and whatever fruit might be in season. Often, I would watch a single recorded episode of The Daily Show with my meal.
Then I would turn on my music and start writing. I tried to write for 2 or 3 hours every morning before taking a break. The break was usually cardio--a walk if I felt up to going outside, the treadmill in the basement if it was too cold or rainy, or if I just couldn’t face the prospect of interacting with strangers.
(I do say “tried” here. There were plenty of days when I got no writing done at all.)
The more I got into the writing, the longer I would go without the break. Sometimes I’d write for a few hours, or procrastinate for 2 first and then start, and instead of taking my big cardio break, I’d just get myself a quick lunch or a snack to get me through, and then keep on working. On those days, I’d force myself to squeeze in treadmill time just before dinner.
That treadmill was a son of a bitch. It was so loud and cumbersome that the basement was the only place for it. On top of the sound, the treadmill was permanently slanted up to a fairly punishing angle. The first time I used it, I could only run on it for about two minutes, then walk for about ten more. I don’t think I ever got past half an hour on it.
Then, as now, I had a playlist to get me through it. I had a playlist for the treadmill and several for writing. The treadmill usually called for Beck. Writing called for a myriad of things.
I know I often started with Elvis Costello, but I also know he’s surprisingly bad writing music for me. I get too wrapped up in his words, and he changes the mood and atmosphere too often.
This was about the period where I started trying to take note of the music I liked in TV shows and looking it up later. I also did google searches for “songs to write to,” and sometimes “wordless music.” I would gather up about ten songs as a time, often from different artists, and assemble them in youtube videos in a line of open browser tabs.
I don’t remember all the iterations of the playlist, but a later, refined version looked a bit like this:
“Night Diving” by Thrice (instrumental)
“Bloodstream” by Stateless (...The Vampire Diaries)
“Twice” by Little Dragon (...also ^)
“Never Let Me Go” by Florence and the Machine (often followed by a run of Florence songs)
“Running up that Hill” by Kate Bush (not always, but...if I felt weird)
“Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“Mr Brightside” by the Killers (only if I needed to jumpstart angst)
And then, at some point, I discovered Lana Del Rey. I think it was right around her awkward SNL appearance. She was exactly what I was looking for--so odd, so melancholy and a little artificial. I remember reading that people thought she was weird and thinking but that’s what makes her awesome.
Lana Del Rey is perfect writing music. She’s all atmosphere, and it’s completely consistent. Her essence is sexy despair and tragic beauty. It’s music to kill yourself to, music to make out to, music to write to.
At the time, I fell in love with “Video Games.” I felt like she was singing the perfect soundtrack to the end I hoped I was writing toward. Now I just think she hit some sort of chord in my head and she’s been hitting it ever since.
Right now, while I’m editing, the playlist goes something like this:
“Gods and Monsters” by Lana Del Rey
“Music to Watch Boys To” by Lana Del Rey
“High by the Beach” by Lana Del Rey
“Born to Die” by Lana Del Rey
“A World Alone” by Lorde
“Buzzcut Season” by Lorde
“Yellow Flicker Beat” by Lorde
“Disparate Youth” by Santigold
“L.E.S. Artistes” by Santigold
“Lights Out” by Santigold
“Nevermind” by Leonard Cohen
(Yeah, the list ends kinda weird. But let’s be real, Leonard Cohen is the Lana Del Rey of his generation.)
And she really did release one called “Music to Watch Boys To.” That woman reads my mind.
Oh, and now I’ve got in-house cardio again. My lovely momsy sent me a mini-elliptical. Yesterday, I started the morning off with a latte from the cafe two blocks away and a Morningstar breakfast sandwich. Then I filled out a job application. And then I read and edited for hours. I kept going until about 7:00, when I decided it was time for my cardio break. I hadn’t quite felt like stopping, but I decided it was necessary to keep my sanity at normal levels. I got up on the elliptical and kept going for one full episode of American Horror Story. Two kinds of break in one. (And, you know...I watched another episode over dinner.)
I can’t tell if my habits are worse or better now. I can still get so wrapped up in this project that I end up ignoring my bodily needs--I fell asleep sitting up twice yesterday. But I do believe the playlist is improving all the time.
Plus, when I start to feel that I’m getting weird from sitting in my house all day immersed in fiction, listening to Lana reminds me that sometimes weird is what you want. And even if it’s not, at least I’m not alone.