Monthly Archives: June 2012

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If you have teenage kids, you probably know all about rap music. If you’re like me and have a child who writes rap, well, you may know more than you’d like to know about rap music. And, like me, you may have a mixed opinion about it.

Rap music is really all about beats and lyrics. As a writer, I can appreciate that. I like good writing and a good message performed to a catchy beat.  Of course, a big complaint of parents is the profanity that seems to make its way into rap songs, and I’m no different. I’ve always wondered why rappers couldn’t get their point across without using all the colorful language. My son’s lyrics are relatively tame, but an expletive here and there can still feel like nails on a chalkboard. I’m sure other moms of rappers agree. So what are we to do?

I decided to sit down with my son and find out a little bit more about what goes into the writing of a rap song. The result? His answers not only helped me understand and even embrace his passion, they offer some good tips for writers of all genres. Here’s what my son had to say:

What or who inspired you to start writing rap?

A friend of mine used to write raps, which were more like poems, and text them to people. He got me inspired to write my own raps. Professionals who’ve inspired me along the way include Lupe Fiasco, Blu, and J. Cole.

How is writing rap like writing poetry? How is it different?

Well, rap music and poetry both need flow and rhythm. They also should have a conclusion and tell a story. But with rap, you’re more inclined to make everything rhyme. You also have to have more structure with rap, because it has to fit within a beat and be musical at the same time.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing rap?

There’s a lot of pressure to show your credibility, which can limit you as a writer. You have to try to keep it real and be true to yourself, approach every song as yourself.

Why do you think profanity is so prevalent in rap music?

There’s always a place for filler words, like swear words, in rap songs. Profanity is used because artists are mostly from a younger generation, so they’re more desensitized to that type of word. Plus, the fan base is young people, who again don’t care about swear words. The profanity is more a reflection of the generation than the music itself.

In your opinion, is profanity necessary for a good rap song?

No, but a swear word wouldn’t hinder a song’s success. On the other hand, too much swearing in a song wouldn’t make it mainstream, but some artists don’t care if they’re not mainstream.

How do you come up with an idea for a rap song?

I usually come up with a concept from my mood or something that happened. I don’t know how the song will unfold or end, though, until I start writing.

Has writing rap music helped you in other areas of your life? If so, how?

Mostly, it’s helped my vocabulary grow. It’s also helped me socially and kept me up on current events. And it’s helped me become a deeper thinker.

What advice would you give an aspiring rap writer?

Find a way to separate yourself from everyone else, and keep some ambiguity in your lyrics so that listeners have a reason to listen to your music again and find new interpretations of it.

 

Image by Vincent & Bella Productions

 

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One of my summer projects is to get started writing a novel. It’s been about eight years since I wrote my last book, so I’ll admit I’m a little rusty. Worse, for me summer isn’t the most ideal time to write, with kids home from school, beautiful days beckoning me outside, and mini-vacations scattered through the months. But I’m determined to at least get started on my book, and so I’ve decided to begin with a notebook.

It’s actually a pretty good-sized notebook, the three-ring kind with lots of tabbed dividers. Putting together this notebook is a project of its own but one I think will pay off in the long run. Here’s what I plan to include in my notebook:

  1. Character profiles, or sketches of my main characters. (For how to write a character profile, check out this article.)
  2. A synopsis, or a short summary of the plot. (Of course, this will likely change, many times.)
  3. A working outline, with a working title.
  4. Early chapter drafts.
  5. Research sources and ideas.
  6. Notes.
  7. A listing of books to read or browse for examples.
  8. A miscellaneous section for extra papers, contacts, etc.
  9. Loose leaf paper.

One thing I’ve learned over the years: Getting started writing a novel (or any book, for that matter) takes time, patience, and focus. A novel notebook is a great way to ease in to the process, especially during the summer months when you may not be ready to plunge into a big project. So far, my notebook has been fun to organize, handy to use, and—above all—motivating. More important, each time I add to my notebook, I feel a sense of accomplishment; I’m one step closer to writing that novel.

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I think summer is a great time to write. But like my summer reading, I prefer to keep my summer writing light. That doesn’t mean I don’t write often or take my writing seriously. I do. What it means is I like to write about things that are uplifting, fresh, and fun—especially when I write for kids. Browsing through some children’s magazines the other day, I discovered what topics are hot with kids right now and what types of writing are selling. Much of it fits my idea of summer writing.

Recent magazines for boys cover a range of topics, but many stories and articles revolve around sports and outdoor activities—fishing, baseball, biking, backpacking, basketball, etc.—and animals. General articles don’t sell, though; what do are pieces on a unique aspect of the topic. The May 2012 issue of Boys’ Life, for example, has an article on amazing fishing boats. Sharks' teeth are discussed in the latest Boys’ Quest magazine.

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Girls’ magazines cover topics like pets, bedroom design, cooking, hair styles, and friendship. Magazines for girls contain lots of fun activities, including quizzes, craft ideas, games, and easy recipes. While fiction stories still have a place in magazines for girls, what seems to be an even hotter seller is nonfiction. Articles with lists—how-tos, tips, and tricks—have become especially popular.

Unisex magazines carry an array of topics, from unusual animals (like bobtail squids in Highlights) to fascinating history (like historic storms in Cobblestone). Other topics that caught my eye include bugs, photography, finding a summer job, daydreams, hiking, and easy stress relievers.

So whatever you choose to write about this summer, consider a topic that’s “light”—especially if you’re writing for kids. Not only will it appeal to them, it’ll make the writing process breezy and fun.

For more on popular topics for kids, check out this article.

(Image by Wil Weterings)