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Pictures of scratched vinyl

by James Garside 8 months ago in workflow · updated 7 months ago
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How to find your writing groove

Pictures of scratched vinyl
Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

Sleep deprivation is a wonderful thing. As is listening to music, especially messed up old vinyl. Put the two together at three in the morning and you get some interesting thoughts about writing.

I love the aesthetics of old vinyl, or at least have a romanticised fondness for it, even though I went digital and all of my music currently resides in iTunes. Vinyl sounds great, even when it’s scratched — so long as you can get it to play.

Figure out how to play scratched vinyl, and not only will your ears love you, but you have a useful working metaphor for how to find your own groove when writing.

There are three things you need to keep in mind when trying to get your own thoughts to play — the needle, the groove, and the click.


Scratched vinyl records will still play if you apply enough pressure to the needle. You just need to hold enough weight on the arm attached to the needle to stop it from skipping. One trick is to place heavy coins on the arm to weigh it down.

Now, you’ve probably already figured out that the arm is your writing arm, and the needle is your pen. As you struggle to put pen to paper, your ideas skit about all over the place like scratched vinyl. You need to apply pressure to hold it in place.

There are many obvious ways to do this. One would be to literally hold your pen to the page and refuse to let it skip about. Write a sentence. Hold your pen down, don’t lift it from the page until you know what to write. When you have the next sentence in your mind, write it down. If at any point your thoughts skip about, hold the pen down at the point before where you last broke off. Play it again. Try to move past the scratch without skipping.


When you’re writing well, your needle will settle into the groove of the thought track you’re trying to play. You’ve scratched back and forth over the vinyl of your ideas, thoughts, and memories, until click you finally found the groove.

In the groove, you can see forwards and backwards the tracks that make up the whole story, but you’re comfortable playing from where you are. You know that you could play this particular piece all the way through.

Writing like this is actually quite pleasant and enjoyable, and probably more addictive than most people would care to admit. Like listening to a great album — each track flows into the next.


When it’s time to flip sides, you hear an unmistakable click. You can start over from scratch, play your record again from the very beginning, switch to something else, or just flip it over and have a listen to what’s on the other side.

I first heard the click at three in the morning. Something in my head just clicked and suddenly I could write — I could play any thought track that I wanted to from beginning to end. I don’t know if it’s the time of night, or my tiredness (though I felt I’d write better if I was fully awake) — but there was an audible click and my thought tracks became as crisp and clear as newly minted vinyl. No scratches.


After the click, I could hear the words of stories jabbering away but it no longer hurt — like the relief you get when you make your ears pop to clear the pressure in your head. It felt perfectly natural — like writing should always sound like that. And just as with pristine but well played vinyl being played on a decent system, you could hear the difference.

I was quite surprised by the discovery, and I didn’t know what to do with it when it happened. But it was loud and clear that the stories were all there to be played, including one in particular I was working on at the time. It all clicked into place and became significant and believable and I could hear it. It also felt like a sudden ability to express what is there, clearly, without any scratches or skittering about. Everything I wrote was significant, but I also had a greater ability to discriminate and a clearer sense of what I was writing.

Deepening the Groove

The more you play vinyl all the way through, the better it sounds. Regular use deepens the groove. So long as you don’t cover it in prints, use it as a frisbee or a chew toy for the dog.

Sleep deprivation aside, I wished that I could write like that all the time, with access to that state at least as a place to begin. You could write a novel like that — or at least tell yourself that you could at three in the morning.

I didn’t know how to duplicate the experience and was worried that when I went to sleep I’d wake up again with scratched thoughts and find myself unable to play them.

So, how do you get your own writing to click? Maybe it’s something you have to get up at a certain time for, or just something that you do every day. But I suspect that it’s a state that given enough practice, you can learn to bring on at any time of the day. For me, music will always sound best at three in the morning.

Needle, Groove, Click.

James Garside is an independent journalist, author, and travel writer. Join Chapter 23 for the inside track on all their creative projects and insights about life, work, and travel.


About the author

James Garside

NCTJ-qualified British independent journalist, author, and travel writer. Part-time vagabond, full-time grumpy arse. I help writers and artists to do their best work.

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