Guess where I am right now? Those of you who know me personally (lucky you J) have a good guess. For those of you who don’t (yet), I can tell you is starts with a * and ends with a Bux.
Yep, I’m officially a Conference Junkie and right here, right now, I’m proclaiming myself as a Coffee Shop Junkie. It’s gotten out of hand. The barista’s call me their ‘artist-in-residence’. I know all about Tom-the-old-guy’s cruise next month. Shoot, one of the crazy little kids turned up as a villain in my WIP. It’s a wonderful community…and an expensive habit.
How did it get like this?
There’s an absurd number of us writers out there that...hmm, how to put this without OCD…“enjoy routine.” Before writing, we line up our Diet Cokes, arrange our lucky river rocks in order of weight, and scratch our noses fourteen times. While I’ve got a bunch of psychological theories around why (yes, one of them is that we’re all crazy), in the end, getting into that proper writing mind-set is critical. The Writing Cave is what we often call it (see also: Hovel, Shack, etc.). And like true junkies, we will do whatever it takes to get us there. For me, it was this place – the coffee shop – before I discovered my iCave. Allow me to explain.
I started coming here because it was distraction-free. No TV. No WiFi (back then). No wife asking me questions in the middle of a critical scene (come on, you understand). But soon, it transformed from peaceful-place-to-type into my Writing Cave.
I’m fortunate to have found such a space, since I’d probably lose river rocks. Except there are times in life when a coffee shop is more than a block away. Or (ack) closed. Or you just can’t leave home. Or you don’t want to spend $487.59 for a chance to write for an hour. So about six months ago, I decided to take my Cave back. And in the true spirit of my Silicon Valley-ness, I wanted to make it mobile…an iCave.
I turned to music, deciding to construct a virtual cave contained within my iPod. But not blindly. To make it a true iCave, I needed to do some analysis (surprise, my day job is engineering).

I knew myself well enough to know that I couldn’t have words in the music, so borrowing Talia’s Duran Duran was out. My story would just end up being, “Every one is my world, I will learn to survive.” What about classical? Something written by Henry VIII from Katy’s playlist? While, I love myself some Tudor, it might be a little dry. What’s in between? Movie scores. They hit a range of emotions with a consistent tone and without words. Perfecto.
Animals live in caves for lots of reasons, but a big one is because they are easy to protect. Spatially, they’re big enough for living, but small enough to guard. My iCave needed to be the same. I wanted the playlist to be long enough to stay interesting, but not so lengthy to be distracting (translation: “oh, man I LOVE this song, I haven’t heard it in forever” and then 3 minutes 47 seconds of embarrassing head bobbing). My answer: pick one album, hit repeat, and go to town.
In this same vein, I was working on a couple projects. Therefore, another design criteria for my iCave was for it to be project specific. When I plugged in the earbuds and hit PLAY, I wanted to go into that world with those characters. So one playlist per manuscript was ideal.
With only one album for each manuscript, I thought long and hard about the feel I wanted elicit in my writing. I write Middle Grade boy, action-adventure with a dash of superhero, a twist of darkness, and a pinch of humor. Guess what I picked? THE DARK KNIGHT for one project and INCEPTION for the other.
I’m enough of a junkie to know going cold turkey on the *Bux-Cave to the iCave was a bad idea. My addiction required a tender weaning. I still went into the coffee shop to write, but I brought my iPod. I listened to it the entire time I wrote. If I needed to do email or facebook, I turned it off. The soundtracks were only for writing.

Eventually, the music became more than background – it became a place. The opening violin wobble of THE DARK KNIGHT was opening the glass door to the shop and the aroma of coffee washing over me. The cool ticking clock sound somewhere in the middle of INCEPTION was as much of my Writing Cave as the wooden chairs that are so good at making my butt fall asleep.

On a recent business trip, I tried to write on a plane. This has never been easy for me because I feel the big guy next to me reading over my shoulder. But I gave my iCave a whirl without support of my *Bux. I popped in the earbuds, hit TDK. Sound the trumpets, it worked! By the time the cellos kicked in, I was in the zone and had a very productive two hours.

Now, my iCave is contained in a 4GB iPod Nano (the old, square kind and it’s silver, if you care to know). I love it. I can work at home, on planes, and (yes) at the coffee shop. I still log lots of hours and dollars at *Bux. But if I get here and my favorite seats are taken (grrr) or if work takes me to Arizona, I don’t have a HUGE meltdown. With my iCave, I get my writing fix whenever/wherever I need it.
Oops, time for another hit.


I think you need to listen to Henry's own "Pastime with Good Companye" before you pass judgment, Bret! But you've almost got me convinced to listen to music while writing (especially on an airplane).

Hm. Am now obsessing on hearing the ticking clock sound in the "Inception" soundtrack.

Thank, Bret, for letting everyone know how crazy we are in such a helpful, informative way (scratching my nose...twelve...thirteen)

Have you tried the soundtrack from the Tim Burton's Batman? Danny Elfman is a perfect fit for your writing.

theme songs are vitally important to getting into "the zone" ...but so is getting to sit in your seat....but, seriously, finding the place in your mind where your story lives is essential and I'm glad you've found your way...

Katy, I can't seem to find it on iTunes though...strange. I'll have to borrow your copy the next time we see each other.

PB, that soundtrack is awesome and the clock gets me every time.

Donna, part of the fun of writing is harnessing and embracing the crazy. Scratch away.

Talia, I've been on a Hans Zimmer kick, but Elfman is totally on my list.

Thanks Stacie. Whatever works, right?

An iCave, what a great idea! Love it, and I'm on it...

I've always been envious of people who could write with music on. I have serious difficulty with that. I tend to stop what I'm doing and have to listen to the music and then I sing along. Maybe if I use a film score without words--I'll try it, but not holding my breath. I'm a writer-in-silence kind of girl, I think. Blerg. I want an iCave.

Your coffee junkieness allowed me to get a coffee this morning so I'm glad it is still a little intact! :-)

The iCave idea is a great one! I've tried working with music before and most of the time I find it distracting. Then again, I'm always listening to music with words. I should try instrumental soundtrack music instead!

Heather, Thanks!

Carolina, I never could do the music-with-words either, but the repetition of movie score worked great for me. I barely hear it anymore.

Jen, Sounds like you need the coffee this morning! I hope the iCave works out for ya.

Now I know what I'm interrupting when I drop by at the coffee shop for my mother-in-law hug. Sorry, Bret.

HA! M-in-L hugs are always welcome!

I'm so proud of you, Bret! Kick the habit! Rogér listens to techno (yea, seriously) while he works...something about just the right tempo, blah blah blah. Is it weird that it bothers me just to know that he's listening to it? I love your movie score idea. We also got hooked on rock songs played on classical instruments, like The Vitamin String Quartet, during pregnancy. It's great background music 'cause you get the same emotions, but no distracting words!

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