Here’s a trick I sometimes use. Not always, but it’s worth trying.
Usually when I sit down to write, I realize I have a range of voices to explore. Say I’m writing headlines for a chocolate company (or playing with layouts, if you’re an art director). Here are three areas off the top of my head that I could explore:
- Chocolate is an almost sinful indulgence.
- Chocolate is something I enjoy alone when I’m feeling content.
- Chocolate is something I share with friends during the good times.
That’s when I make my playlist.
Even if I’m only dealing with print, I’ll take my areas and make a playlist for each area. For the three areas I’ve listed above, maybe I’ll do a Genius playlist on iTunes based on the following:
- Sinful indulgence = “Justify My Love” by Madonna
- Alone + feeling content = “Peng!” by Iron & Wine
- Friends + good times = “Suddenly I See” by KT Tunstall
Then I’ll listen to these playlists as I write. This does two things for me:
- It keeps me from falling into a rut of writing a certain way. For years, I would write almost exclusively to jazz. No matter the assignment, I’d break out Miles Davis or Chick Corea. But I've learned that if I were writing lines for a motorcycle videogame, “Kind of Blue” might not put me in the same frame of mind as “Wildflower” by the Cult.
- It lets me stumble upon (and steal) ideas. While doing this playlist exercise a couple days ago, I was listening to an Iron & Wine song and heard the lyrics “the Pearly Gates have some eloquent graffiti.” I’d never really noticed that line before, and the word “eloquent” fit really well with what I was writing. Not sure I would have stumble upon it if I hadn’t been listening to “The Trapeze Artist.”