Words on the Street, Revisited #37: Turn It Up

Bi-weekly chatter about how looking closely at some of the most common expressions in everyday life can prompt new ways of thinking about our writing.

I listen to music when I clean. I play it loud. I mix it up. I sing along.

It wasn’t always this way. When I was a kid, cleaning meant rags got soaked with vinegar and water, Pine-Sol got poured into buckets and bathroom throw rugs got smacked hard and fast against the concrete steps on the front stoop. It meant me in my cleaning clothes (think: Wrangler cutoffs that stop at the knee and a mustard yellow tube top) and my mom’s hairdo covered in a satin scarf. It meant Saturday morning.  And maybe, if we didn’t “dilly-dally” and got all the rooms cleaned, mirrors wiped and countertops dusted by Noon, we could make it Friendly’s for lunch. That meant a grilled cheese. Maybe even a vanilla Fribble.

These days I go for eucalyptus-scented products instead of straight vinegar. I am obsessed with my Swifter. I dust using a special glove that attracts the tiny particles so the process takes half the time then it used to.  

And I play all kinds of tunes. Last week it was Blondie, Squeeze and The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose. Next week it might be Jon Batiste, Patsy Cline and Stevie Wonder.  If I’m alone in the house when I’m “Swifting” and wiping and scrubbing, the volume of the music is high. The energy is, too. 


A good number of my musings in these Words on the Street columns over the past year and a half, have centered on slowing down, honoring the moments and taking the precious time needed to write. 

Breathe. Soak your feet. Wonder. (I’ve suggested.)

But what about trying something completely different? How about going to the page to take a walk on the wild side, literally and figuratively, and leave the quiet, meditative behind? Turning up the volume and energy, in process and product, can infuse some fresh new energy into the work, no matter the genre. 

Some suggestions, if you’re up for a little shake-up, an unconventional spark:

  1. Write a conversation between two characters (fiction or nonfiction) who are having a bar fight. Write into the scene loud music, loud voices and loud objects hitting the floor. Write the speed with which everyone moves.
  2. Use the “I Remember” form to create a list of memories (they can be foggy, vivid or somewhere in-between) where you recall being in spaces where sounds were booming and collective energy was intense. Once you finish your list, choose one and write out of that recollection. Try to be scene-driven and focus on the intensity of the time.
  3. Find a playlist that, for you, is the opposite of “chill.” Or better yet, create one. Next step, listen to it with the sole intention of gaining some momentum on the page and off—in theory or practice. Or both. And don’t keep the sound dial on 2, turn it up. Consider these questions when the music fades: 1. Does listening with intention matter or no? 2. Does the music influence your energy, your motivation? If so, what does that look like, feel like? Write from the experience.
  4. Write a story of speed. A rollercoaster ride. Running the 50-yard dash in elementary school. Sprinting to catch the train, plane or boat before it departs.
  5. And finally, don those rubber gloves, grab the Pin-Sol (or vinegar) and pick up your bucket. Go back to that list of songs. Press Play and clean! Where else can you have your very own dance club without the cover charge and fancy clothes? Once you are done, write a piece about wiping, dusting and/or scrubbing. 


You know what’s next. After the song ends, the race is over and ride stops…breathe, soak your feet, wonder. 

And write some more.

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