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The Soundtrack of My Writing Life

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My daughter turns 16 next week. I can’t believe I have a child old enough to drive. As I was helping to put together a music playlist for her dance party that will take place tonight, I started thinking about what kind of a soundtrack I could create for my writing life. After all, I did make the move to freelance writing after she was born and I didn’t want to go back to a full-time job right away.

After two nights of listening to music and pondering, here’s what I could come up with.

The Teen Angst Years-From Debbie Gibson to Depeche Mode
Those were some confusing times. I idolized pop singer Debbie Gibson and was tickled that she and I shared the same birthday. After moving from Texas to North Carolina the summer before seventh grade, I didn’t know a soul. I spent that summer belting out every song on Gibson’s “Out of the Blue” album and studying her song lyrics in the liner notes of my cassette tapes (Remember those?) Then I filled notebooks full of peach and purple-colored paper with song lyrics about my oh-so-complicated love life (read, non-existent love life) at the age of 12. Later on in high school, I advanced a little bit and wrote dark and depressing poems that wound up in our school’s literary journal, and artists like Depeche Mode (“Enjoy the Silence,” anyone?) began weaving their way into my cassette player as I pondered the world around me.

The College Years-Tori Amos
Life got a bit more confusing in college. I didn’t do a great job of balancing my studies while working two jobs, fell in love with all the wrong people, and didn’t really know what self care was. The majority of my writing during this time period was limited to research papers and a book of poetry I wrote for the final project in my humanities class my junior year. This included a poem about Sylvia Plath and her untimely death, if that gives you any idea of where my head was at the time. Indie princess Tori Amos became my idol, as I marveled at how easily she poured her emotions into her lyrics and music, even when it made everyone around her uncomfortable.

Life in the Suburbs-Ben Folds
Like I mentioned above, it wasn’t until I was firmly entrenched in suburbia with two small children that I began writing again in earnest. In between writing parenting articles and restaurant reviews for local publications, I penned short stories about frustrated moms who weren’t sure how they would ever find time for themselves again. I began listening to music by people like Ben Folds (“Rockin’ the Suburbs” is still my favorite and my teens now request that one in the car, curse words and all) and started realizing what those singers were talking about in songs like “1985” by Bowling for Soup and “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne.

Mother of Teenagers-Nostalgia Sets In
Now I’m in my 40s, writing books and stories for teenagers because I still want to read them myself and thinking about how different my own teen years were as I watch them and their friends. I watch in horror as every movie I loved in high school is remade with newer and hipper actors and music. It makes me want to sit on my couch with a glass of wine and watch the original version of “Footloose” and listen to music by Rick Springfield, Bonnie Tyler, The Cure, and The Pixies.

I don’t know what I would have done without music to get me through my life and accompany me in my writing career. What music do you have a fondness before as you look back in your past?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a marketing director for a nonprofit theatre company. Visit her website at

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