Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

How Music Saved My Writer Soul

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I think I must have always been a writer. I think it’s something you’re born with. Part of you that is lying in wait. Patiently, quietly, waiting. Eventually, it awakens, stretching it’s arms and looking around, bleary eyed… blinking in confusion before the realization settles in… I am home.

I was in the third grade. Her name was Ms. Abraham. She was the anti-teacher. She was a rebel in a school of proper, southern, cardigan-wearing teachers. She was statuesque in front of the green chalkboard. Gum popping between her red painted lips. She was loud. Brash. She would roll her eyes and tease us while still commanding our respect. I felt more at home in her classroom than in any other. Her unique brand of sarcasm and affection and high expectations were both exhilarating and comforting to my eight year old brain.

She introduced me to writing. Creative writing was a staple in her lesson plans. The rules were simple. Use correct spelling and grammar. Other than that? Write about whatever you want. We would cut pictures out of magazines and use them for inspiration for a story. The lack of rules was confusing at first. The freedom to do whatever we wanted was unsettling. It was perfect.

My writing soul was born in that classroom.

I didn’t keep extensive journals or write a novel on the rainy summer days of my youth. I spent my free time reading, listening to music and running around the neighborhood with my friends. But I was writing, constantly writing in my mind.

I would lay on the floor of my room and daydream for hours while I listened to my favorite albums. I would concoct stories inspired by the songs. I could spend an entire day like that. Lost in my own mind.

I would rest a dog eared book on my stomach after devouring it and replay words and phrases over in my mind. Marveling at the sequences that rolled off the page and became a part of my thoughts, seeds of future inspiration.

I would lay in bed at night, never able to fall asleep at a decent hour. I would stare at the streetlight that filtered through my metal blinds and replay events of the day, editing and re-phrasing conversations, scripting and narrating.

I had scribbled notes and half stories and partially filled notebooks. But most of my writing took place in my head. Permanence was not a concern. It was the exercise that I was seeking, not documentation.

In college I slid between majors looking for my place. I dabbled in Biology and Journalism before finally settling on an English Major. My desire to indulge in classes that involved reading and writing drowning ideas of practicality. I told myself I’d get a job writing after college. I pictured myself working in a busy magazine office, surrounded by people who loved words as much as I did.

What I found was that getting paid to write usually involves paltry freelance fees that wouldn’t support a broke post graduate.

My desire to write became a notion. A luxury that would have to be set aside while I paid the rent and student loan bills and tried to avoid eviction from my apartment.

But it was still there. I was still narrating in my mind. I was still daydreaming and imagining how I would “write” whatever was happening in my life. I would relish road trips. Hours to drive with nothing but music and the wind and my thoughts.

Then life started moving fast. There was no time to actually write. There was work and marriage and then children. I thought less and less about my dreams of writing and focused fully on raising my children. Instead of listening to music for hours, I consumed parenting books and studied learning techniques and tried to create a warm home for my family. I could have made time to write. But for the first time since third grade I had little desire.

That all changed a few years ago.

I was driving by myself, I had the windows down and the music turned up. My music was on shuffle when the song shifted. An abrupt shift in tempo had me reaching to skip the song, but I paused.

Slow streams of music filled the car, begging me to listen. I slipped into a warm bath of words and sounds. I was transported.

I was back in third grade, running through neighbors’ back yards. I was back in my bedroom laying on the floor with my headphones on listening to music. I was back in the woods lounging in a makeshift fort telling stories with my friends, making plans for mischief.

The lyrics broke through the veneer of mom and wife and carpool driver. I listened to poetry playing out in haunting melody, the words swirling through the air like blue smoke, the tendrils finding their way to me. I breathed in the words and felt my eyes burn. Tears started spilling over, trickling down my cheeks. I laughed as I wiped away the tears. I hit repeat and took the long way home, not ready to let the feeling go yet. The song… the words… they stirred me. They opened up a part of me that I had filed away for future use.

My writing soul had been gently nudged awake.

I needed to have words in my life again. I needed to write. I needed to take the voice that had been accompanying me all these years and put it on paper.

I started writing. I wrote chapters that I had been composing in my head for years. I started writing for an audience and terrified myself with the thoughts of eyes reading my words. I started fretting over cliches and phrases and obsessing over what to write about. I felt nauseous the first time I hit Publish.

I still do. I feel nerves and fear and extreme vulnerability every time I publish.

But I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep listening to music that inspires me. Music that is written with pain and passion and longing. Artists that turn phrases that have my head spinning in admiration and envy.

The more I write, the more I find myself returning to what always sustained me. I will lay on the floor after my evening workout with my headphones on, lost in a song. I’ll brush off the thoughts of dishes piled in the sink waiting for me. I’ll take the long way home to feel the wind on my face and absorb the music. I’ll brush off my to do list for a few more moments of nourishment. I sit at my laptop and shuffle through my music until a song plays that has me feeling… something.

Music has always been my compass. It’s guided me through pain, through heartbreak, through grief. It’s been the salve for open wounds and the outlet for seething anger. It’s been the inspiration I was seeking.

It woke me from a long sleep. It reminded me of who I am. Of where I belong.

I am home.





31 Responses

  1. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Other then some of the details, the heart of this piece, I could’ve written it. So many of your lines in this resonate so well with me. Just this week I tried writing some song lyrics. I love music like you say you love it here and it is an intoxicating feeling when I heard my words sung and put to music.
    Writing about music for my 1000 Speak post this weekend. Hope you do not mind if I share this post you’ve written?

    1. Of course you can always share a post of mine! I would be honored!

      I have zero musical talent. I’m in awe of people who do. I can’t imagine how it must feel to hear your words set to music. There was a video (I posted it a long time ago on FB) with T’Nehesi Coates talking about writing. He talked about a rhythm to writing, a musical quality and how he struggles to find that place, where his writing sounds like music. I was a fan of his before seeing that but I literally teared up when I heard him say it. I felt like he voiced what I had always felt. What I aspire to do when I write. To actually write lyrics? Sigh… that is (in my mind) the highest form of art. Will you send me the link on FB when your post is live? I would love to hear your song!

    1. I love this quote of yours. You so should be married to writing, it’s in your blood, my dear. And you have musical talent so you can legitimately cheat with music. I’m just a bystander, a voyeur. A hopeless groupie. One day I want to sit on your couch and drink wine and watch you play guitar, ok? I just invited myself to your house and demanded that you perform for me. Hope that’s cool. xoxo

          1. I am NOT comparing myself to Courtney Love! hahahaha
            I am maybe possibly perhaps going to bring my guitar to BlogU, because I’m driving there.
            COME THERE!!

    1. Paintings of sounds floating through your head… that’s beautiful. Do you find yourself thinking in lyrics and stopping yourself from saying them to people? The only people I can speak in lyrics to are some of my closest and oldest friends and my husband. Other people look at me like I have tourettes or something…

      1. Hahaha, I do, sometimes I find myself turning conversations into musicals, in my head of course. Oh and my poor kids get to hear me make songs out of cleaning the house or doing the dishes.

  2. Music is my muse so often. I love that we share that. When do I get to hear your voice again?

    In other news, I’m going to start sending you music like I do Lizzi so that I can read more of your words.

    1. Please please send me music! I would LOVE that! Do you know how many guys I dated because they made me amazing mix tapes and exposed me to music that I’d never heard before? I mean, not a lot, I’m a good girl. *wink* But people who share new music with me are some of my favorite people on the planet. You are already in that category, so if you start sending me music we might have to take our relationship to another level *stares into Mandi’s eyes intensely* No. Don’t look away *continues staring*

  3. You have written my story right there! As a kid all I ever wanted to be was an author (that’s exactly what I told people, even aged five or six). But drinking and bands got in the way. Then boys in bands. Then drugs and boys and raves. But all the time writing in my head and all the time having such deep emotional attachment to the music and lyrics I loved. Then work, marriage, kids. Then suddenly last year I woke up and thought fuck this! It’s my life and I need to live it the way I always wanted to. So I started to write and didn’t abandon it immediately or get embarrassed when my husband asked what I was doing. I have found a new love along with music. I was never going to be a musician and I can’t sing, but I can create worlds.

    1. Ohhh… I love your last sentence. “I was never going to be a musician and I can’t sing, but I can create worlds.” That is beautiful and perfect and says it all! I have no musical talent. None. If I want to annoy my husband I sing in the car really loud. Isn’t that the magical thing about music? You don’t have to possess any talent to be captured by it. I’m glad you found your way back to writing.

  4. Awesome piece. I guess talent and passion can never be suppressed no matter what happens to us in life. I’m glad you found your voice because I enjoy your writing. Keep on listening to music, getting inspired and writing!

    1. I will absolutely keep listening to music. If I am stuck and don’t know what to write I put my headphones on and wait to see if a song sparks an idea or an emotion. Thank you so much for your sweet words of encouragement. <3

  5. Now I wonder if I’m a writer at all, because so many people seem to have had this experience and I just…haven’t.

    Poetry is what forms itself in my head, and words and rhymes weave pictures through my mind, and books I read turn into movies which I watch unfold as the words dissolve and the stories play out seamlessly in my imagination.

    Writing, for me, is the reverse – the movies in my mind play out and shimmer past my mind’s eye as my fingers spin across the keyboard, translating them into some semblance on a page, of what I’ve seen – a nearest approximation.

    And when emotion becomes too raw or fragile or beautiful for writing, poetry happens.

    Music is kind of a third factor, which I love, and which feeds my soul in a very different way – it inspires different movies and feelings in my mind, which tend to work their way back to poetry before they form stories.

    1. Lizzi! Don’t you dare question whether you are a writer or not! Of course you are! You write with passion and the words seem to just flow out of you whether it’s blogging or poetry. I always felt like a pseudo-writer because I don’t have journals filled with words from my childhood. I didn’t write every day. It doesn’t matter. We write because we have to and because it’s a part of us. Right? Good. Glad that’s settled. 😉

      And I process music and books similarly to you. When I listen to music sometimes it brings up emotions or thoughts. Other times I feel like I’m watching a movie play out in my mind. See, we have that in common too. And poetry… sigh. It’s never been my talent. There are times when I want to write poetry because what I want to say needs to not be bound by a narrative and I just want to let the rush of emotions out, free form. It just doesn’t work for me, I might feel better or feel a release but it’s not the type of thing that others would gain anything from. What I’m saying is it’s bad. Really bad. Instead I’ll just read your gorgeous poetry. <3

      1. I kept a diary when I was young, for five years, and every entry said (some variation of) ‘school, homework, dinner, bed, crap day, hated it’.

        I think you should write poetry and just see how it goes. I’ve written poetry as long as I can remember, and I think that’s why I can make it work now but there are no rules to poetry and that’s something which is so wonderful about it – it’s absolutely free, and in one way, there are no bad poems, because of that! Maybe you could write songs instead?

        ANYWAY, whichever and whatever it is, I’m glad you write.

        (and I maybe half-changed my mind because the other day while I was watching the ducks I realised that I was internally narrating everything that was going on, and then I realised that I maybe have a kind of running commentary going MOST of the time, under the surface layers of my brain, which was FASCINATING, because I found it once I looked for it!)

  6. Wow.. I’m glad that you did not skip that song, because if so, you wouldn’t have given me a nudge. I’m not the very best write there can be but I do always have words that float in my head begging to be alive and out. I’ve always thought of writing as an outlet.. My true passion is music. But now you really inspired me to write and keep on writing until my mind runs out of words. Thank you very much. This was absolutely beautiful. We all owe something to music, don’t we?

    1. Yes, we do all owe something to music. And I’m so grateful that there are people who have the kind of talent to make great music. And I gave you a nudge to write? That makes me so incredibly happy! Please do keep writing. We all think we are not the greatest writers, but ignore that voice of doubt and just write what is burning inside of you. Write, make your music, do it all and see where it takes you. The possibilities really are endless. Thank you so much for your kind words. <3

  7. This is awesome. I love having you featured on my sidebar, because that way I always know when you’ve posted.

    My writing also started in English class. With me it was poetry. I wrote a poem a day for years when I was a teenager.

    It’s impossible for me to overstate the importance of music both to my writing and my overall worldview. In the days before the Internet when we only had three tv channels, books and the radio were pretty much the only way for a person from a working family to get honest glimpses of the outside world.

    It think popular music has done us as much good over the last 100 years as any other part of our pop culture.

    1. Leave it to you, Gene’O to sum it up so perfectly! I agree, with your last statement completely. I honestly don’t think I would be the same person if there were no music. I remember obsessing over certain songs when I was as young as 5. I would beg my mom to buy me records. And our kids have NO IDEA how good they have it with iTunes and YouTube and all the immediate access they have to music. If this kind of access had been around when I was young I probably would have never left my room!

      I feel extremely lucky because my Step Dad is a huge music lover. He collects albums and music memorabilia. He knows more about rock, classic rock and obscure artists than anyone I know. So I grew up around some great music. He sometimes goes to concerts with me and he’s the one who got me hooked on collecting concert posters from shows I go to. He bought me one and convinced a guy from the road crew to take it to the band and have them all sign it for me. At the time it was one of my favorite bands. How cool is that?

  8. Wow, amazing story! I love how you use music as inspiration. I like to put on a piece of classical music and imagine who the characters would be and what they might be doing if it were a soundtrack to a “movie” or story in general.

  9. Hello Kelly. G

    I hope all is well; just a quick inquiry I follow your blog- get emails of your blog writings however for the past few months I have not been getting updates. My inquiry is do you still blog? Really loved your posts. Hoping to get a reply from you.

    Regards Merab

    On Mar 18, 2016 6:39 PM, “Drifting Through My Open Mind” wrote:

    > Gretchen Kelly posted: ” I think I must have always been a writer. I think > it’s something you’re born with. Part of you that is lying in wait. > Patiently, quietly, waiting. Eventually, it awakens, stretching it’s arms > and looking around, bleary eyed… blinking in confusion before ” >

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