Liminal Space (Bill Cameron)

I’m a writer. I love to write. And when I say that, I don’t mean — as Dorothy Parker famously put it — “I love having written.” I mean, I love the actual process itself. I love getting lost in the act of creation, in building up a world and its people word by word.

And yet, I have to run all kinds of scams on myself to get into a writing frame of mind, to reach that liminal space where I’m past getting ready to write and simply writing. Sometimes that means picking a new location, going for a walk, or reading a passage in a book that inspires me. But often, it's choosing the right music.

Music has always been a key tool for me. I’ve written to music almost since I started writing, and from the beginning I associated certain songs and artists with each project. When I was in high school, it was always album-based, because my only options then were the radio, or my record collection. The radio was too random, and constantly interrupted by commercials and over-excited DJs. So I would pick a record to play while I wrote, and when I fell into that liminal space, the tone arm would get to the end of the side, lift, and return to the beginning over and over again. My mother would sometimes bang on my door and demand I put something else on.

I wrote my 11th grade term paper to Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. I wrote a short story about aliens who ate light to Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” But things got really interesting when I finally got access to a tape deck. Project mix tapes, and then the Walkman, changed everything. I could curate each project’s musical tone and take it with me anywhere.

Today, of course, it’s even easier. With my music library in pocket and the ability to build playlists with my finger, I now can tweak my frame of mind with a tap. Every project has a playlist, and I have a number of general playlists for when I’m not sure what I want to work on.

For a project’s playlist, I choose songs based on associations with the characters, or an event in the story. Sometimes it’s music a character might listen to, but more often I select songs about how they feel or what they’ve experienced.

And my playlists change. Over the course of writing a novel, I’ll add, delete, and re-order songs based on changes in plot or character—or where I am in the narrative. That wasn’t really an option in the bad old days of mix tapes. Not that I couldn’t make a new tape, but that would take hours. Today, it takes seconds. And if I’m out and about and hear a song that I just know will work, I can buy and it add it to a playlist in a heartbeat.

Ultimately, though, it’s not about the music. It’s about the writing. And in the end, that means once I get into that liminal space where the words are flowing, I no longer hear the music. I simply write.


  1. Well said. I wrote an entire book fueled by one of Medwyn Goodall's albums.

  2. I love the phrase "liminal space." Thank you for introducing me to "liminal" -- what a cool word and concept!

  3. I'm with jen -- love the new cool word :)


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