I do all my best thinking when I’m nowhere near a computer. Sometimes this is a problem; if I don’t write down an idea right away, it doesn’t always stay in my head. Most of the time, I view it as an asset.

I walk a lot. I live a little over a mile from my day job and I don’t own a car, so I walk to and from the office every day. Or, sometimes I just walk around the neighborhood when the ideas aren’t coming so easily.

And, because I’m also easily bored, I always have my iPod with me. The best strategy I’ve come up with to overcome writer’s block is to make playlists for each of my novels. If I’m stuck on a story, I’ll put on the playlist for that story and take a walk, and I can usually work out my problem. I started doing this for a novel I wrote in college: I made a soundtrack. It’s helpful sometimes to think of your novel in cinematic terms. Who would play this character in the movie? What song is playing in the background of this scene?

My musical tastes are varied and eclectic. I like everything from country to folk to opera to classic rock. Among other things, I’m a classically trained musician, and I’m a sucker for a good pop song that uses strings. (Real strings, not the synthesized ones; I can tell!) Sometimes I make playlists that are just a hodgepodge of songs that I think apply to specific scenes. It means that one soundtrack can have a folk song, a rap song, and maybe a piece of classical music. If I write a novel with a violinist character, the soundtrack might include a piece of music she plays in the novel. If I hear a song that I think is particularly evocative, that’s probably going to get added to a soundtrack. Sometimes I just pick a bunch of songs in one particular genre to set a mood for the whole piece. I have a work in progress about Wyoming ranchers, and I made a playlist that is entirely country music, for example (and all songs about wide open spaces, for the most part, or specific emotions, nothing that’s location specific to areas of the US I’m not writing about.)

So, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and the novel I have planned is, in part, “historical,” in that there’s a storyline that spans from 1945 until 2001 or so. The character who lives through all this is a lifelong New Yorker, so I’m trying to pick out some songs for his part of the novel’s soundtrack. So far I’ve got things like Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” and James Brown’s “Down and Out in New York City” and a whole lot of Simon & Garfunkel. If anyone has further songs, songs that are evocative of a particular era, or of New York City (especially in the 60s ad 70s), I’m open to suggestion, too.

PS — I haven’t officially announced it here, but my first novel is coming out in February, if all goes to plan. This novel’s got a soundtrack, too, sort of, in that I was listening to a lot of whiny emo rock at the time.