Literary Exorcism: 5 Songs to Fight the Demons in Your Prose

Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke

By Daniel Ford

Nothing helps your editing process more than stepping away from your prose for a bit and coming back with fresh eyes.

Unfortunately, what you return to might be a raging dumpster fire. That means the editing could torture you more than the initial writing.

Author Rory Quinn said something recently that stuck with me: “Learning to be your own most brutal editor isn't easy, but it is absolutely necessary.”

These five tunes should ease your pain:

“A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

Lyrics for writers: “It's been a long, a long time coming/But I know a change gon' come, oh yes it will.”

Using the above Sam Cooke lyrics as an editing mantra is a good place to start. Editing requires a different mindset than writing. You can’t start the process thinking that everything is going to survive your sharpened samurai swords. The weeds choking your real story must face their day of reckoning. A change is coming, and you’re armed with the tools necessary to execute it. 

“No One Ever Tells You” by Seth MacFarlane

Lyrics for writers: “Someone tells you later all is fair in love and war/But no one ever tells you before.”

Okay, so everyone tells you editing is going to be a bitch. But you never truly believe it until you’re in the trenches.

However, there’s something about Seth MacFarlane’s voice that makes you enjoy feeling miserable. He happily croons the line: “No one ever tells you what's like to love and lose/How it feels to waken and have breakfast with the blues.” If Brian the Dog’s vocals can accomplish that, your words can do the same. Don a fedora, turn the volume up on this tune, and viciously wield your red pen to coax the right notes out of your prose.   

“Agape” by Bear's Den

Lyric for writers: “For I'm so scared of losing you/and I don't know what I can do about it.”

Killing those little darlings is traumatic. Humming the chorus to Bear’s Den’s earnest breakup song won’t make the process any easier, but at least you’ll have something syrupy to fall back on after you smack the delete key. Remember, you’re ending the relationship with those words and phrases for a reason. It’ll hurt at first, but you’ll be a stronger, mentally balanced writer following the drinking and weeping. Plus, unlike an ex-lover, you can keep the trimmings around! Author Peter Sherwood is fond of saying, “Don’t throw anything away!” and he’s absolutely correct. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used snippets of previously cut material to fill in gaps or awkward transitions. With that knowledge, the initial break up shouldn’t completely shatter your spirit.

“Devil in Me” by Anderson East

Lyrics for writers: Lord, forgive me for what I'm thinking/Cause it's Saturday night and I'm high and I've been drinking

Editing your prose can generate some pretty dark thoughts. Why did I write this? What was my motivation? Can my body handle any more booze or caffeine?

There’s a devil at play in your work and you need to excise him. Yeah, you’re overtired and possibly over-served, but that shouldn’t stop you from condemning the cloven hooved menace hiding in your literary garden back to his fiery underworld.

“S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Lyrics for writers: “Son of a bitch, give me a drink”

Editing can be a grim experience. Don’t wallow in the slow songs for an extended period. At the end of a long editing binge, crank up “S.O.B. and get sufficiently lubricated. After a few cocktails, tell your awkward sentences and flaccid dialogue, “I'm going to cover myself with the ashes of you.”

If any authors, writers, or musicians are interested in submitting a post for consideration, email or tweet us@WritersBone.

For more writing playlists, check out our full archive.

Skeleton Crew: 5 Songs To Transform Your Demons Into Prose

By Daniel Ford

I couldn’t very well let the likes of Brian Panowich, David Joy, Michael Farris Smith, Steph Post, and Dave Pezza have all the fun.

I’m currently in the re-writing/editing phase of my debut novel, and along with an assist from authors Scott Cheshire, Anne Leigh Parrish, and the aforementioned Steph Post, as well as Dave and my writing muse/goddess Stephanie Schaefer, music helps me ignore the skeletons in my closet and embrace the better angels of my writer’s soul.

I’ve long maintained that good writing—that writing that violent wrests you away from realityshould read like the author wrote it while on fire (Ross Ritchell’s The Knife and Elliot Ackerman’s Green on Blue are excellent examples). Not flames of desperation, but of an inescapable, all-consuming earnestness that should ignite your own passion for your words and prose.

Here are five songs that might also help light your fuse.

Zac Brown Band “All Right”

This is a good place to start:

“I'd have a lot to give/If I still gave a damn.”

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young “Love the One Your With”

God, did I force my main character into some crappy situations while I listened to this song. Poor bastard didn’t even see it coming.

“Don't be angry, don't be sad/Don't sit crying over good times you've had/Well there's a girl sitting right next to you/And she's just waiting for something to do.”

My favorite version of this song is on Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “4 Way Street,” but for YouTube purposes, this version featuring four old guys with suspect vocals getting bluesy will do just fine (there’s also nothing like a Neil Young guitar solo to get you going on a Friday afternoon).

Elton John “Take Me to the Pilot”

I’ve long past the point of being objective about Elton John, but I defy anyone to find a subpar version of this song. It can’t be done. Talk about love on fire:

“If you feel that it's real I'm on trial/And I'm here in your prison/Like a coin in your mint/I am dented and I'm spent with high treason.”

And as the video above proves, this song only gets better with age.

Johnny Cash and June Carter "Jackson"

Jesus Christ, what a love affair. Between June Carter's growl and Johnny Cash's swinging hips, I'm surprised the set in this video didn't burn down. This is exactly how I wanted every relationship my main character had to sound: blistering, desperate, and just a little bit angry. 

Zac Brown Band “Let it Rain”

Fuck it. Why not end with one more tune from Zac Brown Band’s brilliant “Dave Grohl Sessions, Vol..1?”

After you’re done with the first draft of your novel, you have to celebrate. I opened up a bottle of single malt scotch, eased back in my desk chair, and smiled the widest grin I could muster. You’re certainly not at the end of the road, but you’ve hit a major milestone, so enjoy the moment. Let your skeletons darken your door a final time, and then calmly, confidently extend your middle finger.

Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford is an author based out of Boston, Mass. His work can be found on Amazon, Writer’s Bone,, and Follow him on Twitter

If any authors, writers, or musicians are interested in submitting a post for consideration, email or tweet us@WritersBone.

For more writing playlists, check out our full archive

When the Right Chord Strikes: Author Michael Farris Smith’s Shattering Playlist

From Ryan Bingham's music video for “Southside of Heaven”

From Ryan Bingham's music video for “Southside of Heaven”

Editor’s note: Last, but certainly not least, in this week’s debut series “The Writer’s Guide to Music” is author Michael Farris Smith (whose novel Rivers will be on my nightstand before the weekend starts). Be sure to go back and read Brian Panowich’s entry from Wednesday and David Joy’s post from Thursday. Again, if any authors, writers, or musicians are interested in submitting a post for consideration, email or tweet us @WritersBone.—Daniel Ford

By Michael Farris Smith

Over the past five or six years music has become as much an influence on my writing life as anything. Why? Because great songs are filled with powerful imagery, emotion, and the complexities of the human spirit that we try to understand but can't. This is the same thing I do when I sit down to create story or character or scene. How real can I make it?

Great songs make it real. You feel them. You don't forget the striking lyrics, the emotional attachment. Part of my morning routine is drop off my little ones, ride around and listen to the handful of songs that are ringing in my head at the moment, come home and strum a couple, and then write. It's my favorite damn habit.

Here are 10 songs that have either stuck with me as an artist, or that have had big impacts on whatever I've been working on. Or are perfect for late nights and back roads. Or all of the above.

Martin Zellar “Ten Year Coin”

I started listening to Martin Zellar 20 years ago when he was with the Gear Daddies. This song has a lyric that stays with me just about every time I sit down to write or think about what might hide in the dark shadows of all my characters. It's so strong: "When I was younger I used to wonder what could ever bring a man to want to kill, and it scares the shit right out of me to admit that I don't have to wonder still."

Steve Earle “Goodbye”

Well, Earle is just a badass. But "Goodbye" is a stripped down song about longing, regret, the fragile nature of loss. "Goodbye" was in my head the entire manuscript of Rivers. I attached Cohen to this song and I suspect that character and novel and song will always sit together in my mind. 

Ryan Bingham “Southside of Heaven”

The coolest thing about Ryan Bingham? Two summers ago he played in Tupelo in this little bar that held about 200 people. This was right in the middle of a tour when he was playing to thousands. I thought it'd be a paired-down set, paired-down band, maybe play for about an hour. Instead, they crammed the entire band on this little stage, took shot after shot in front the audience, and ripped and roared for two hours like it was Austin City Limits. Love this song because: "When I die, Lord, won't you set my soul upon a train. Send it southbound, give some ol' blues man name."

Ben Nichols “The Last Pale Light in the West”

If you are a fan of Cormac McCarthy, and he has had a big influence on my work, then you'll dig Ben Nichols. This song comes from the same titled album, which is based on McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian. You feel the burned out landscape, burned out characters. I love this damn song late at night with only the headlights out in front.

The Civil Wars “Dust to Dust”

This is the other song that stuck in my head during Rivers. Because of this: "You've held your head up, you've fought the fight. You bear the scars, you've done your time." The song twists you up. And then the video was two lonely people wandering around Paris. The City of Light sits right beside Mississippi as the two places that have had the biggest mark on my work.

Pearl Jam “Wishlist”

I was 21 when “Ten” came out and holy shit. But I didn't let the band come and go. I've held on to Pearl Jam over the years. Last year I saw them in Memphis and kinda forgot how hard they bring it. Their songs also are full of notions of identity and individuality. "Wishlist" grabs all that. The first line: "I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off." I feel like that about every other damn day.

Sons of Bill “Joey's Arm”

I've only recently come to discover Sons of Bill and thank God I did. "When you don't fit in at church or bars, you bite your lip and you hide the scars." How could the son of a preacher not just get all tied up by that line?

Jason Isbell “Traveling Alone”

Isbell's “Southeastern” is an album I listen to over and over. Honestly, I've gotten suckered by the single like everybody else, but this album has reminded me what it means to listen to a full album, feel the themes, and really get to know an artist. "Traveling Alone" is like so much other stuff I dig. It haunts you, drains you. You feel its grasp for...something.

Drive-By Truckers “Outfit”

Bottom line is "Outfit" pretty much describes the people I know, the towns I grew up in, and the hard-working, hard-loving people I've been surrounded by my whole life. It's damn near everything I love about the South.

Drivin' N Cryin' “Straight to Hell”

Forget "Sweet Home Alabama." If you don't know "Straight to Hell" then you don't know the true Southern rock anthem. Every band I've played with, every bar I've played in, if you want everyone to get up and raise glasses, then strike up "Straight to Hell." Drivin' N Cryin' is probably the best Southern rock band you have never heard of. "She took my hand and we walked into the sun, a new day's promise had begun, we'll make it along whether you like it or not..."

Rock on.

Michael Farris Smith (Photo credit: Chris Jenkins)

Michael Farris Smith (Photo credit: Chris Jenkins)

To learn more about Michael Farris Smith, visit his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter @michael_f_smith.