Fueled by Music

I tend to think that I do not have a writing process. I am comfortable curling up or sitting down pretty much anywhere with a pen and paper, or even the memo app on my phone, and writing. I even have a horribly dangerous habit of pulling out my pen and a pad of Post-its while I am driving and scratching out an idea. (This morning: “The StandMy Country ‘Tis of Thee.” I might explain later.)

The one constant I have is music. Whether I am using it as a shield or a tool, I prefer to have music playing when I write. I don’t need it per se, but when I don’t have it, I am easily distracted or I encounter moments when the silence (or, at least, the lack of music) is blaring. Hence using it as a shield.

Music as a writing tool is something I’ve seen discussed on Twitter often, and I am asked about (which makes me feel kind of awesome: People are coming to me. For writing advice, not just grammar. Mind. Blown.). I use music in a variety of ways, and I’ve also stolen several others’ suggestions:

Music for tone.

If I have a tonal or atmospheric goal for a scene, I will try to listen to a song or a playlist that fits that scene.

For example, I have a scene wherein my heroine is attempting to cheer herself up after a long depression. She had just bought a black dress for a funeral, and she is being pulled in two opposite directions emotionally: She’s sick of feeling down and she looks darn good, but at the same time, she’s preparing for a funeral. I use Sara Bareilles’s “Little Black Dress.” I wanted to actually include this by name, but I had to abandon that idea when I kicked the setting back ten years.

Using this method, I will create a playlist in iTunes for an entire book and download it to my iPod to listen to while I write. Each scene has an accompanying scene.

Music for pace.

I have trouble setting pace in a scene. It’s either long and plodding or short and too sparse as far as detail is concerned. I will rewrite and smooth while listening to music that fits the pacing.

For example, I wrote a pursuit (I love pursuit scenes), and used Apocalyptica’s “Hall of the Mountain King” to set the pace.

Listening to a specific song will also help with re-writes. I had to re-write the climax of COLOSSUS, and I wanted to make the tone more grave. The original song that I wrote to was Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone,” which fits the pace, but not the tone. However, I just downloaded Radiohead’s OK Computer a few months ago, and I heard “Exit Music (for a Movie)” for the first time. The tone and sheer level of bitterness of the song fit the scene so perfectly, they aligned as I was listening to it for the first time. I re-wrote the scene while listening to the song, and the tone simply flowed.

Music for voice. 

This is something I did for an abandoned project, but for some reason did not do for MNINHS. A fellow NaNo camper reminded me of this method: Assigning characters theme songs. This will help writing the character with a consistent voice.

I had a character named Faulk who was grim and guilt-ridden. He had a lot going on inside his head that never left his mouth. He fought to be hard-hearted. My character model for him was Viggo Mortensen. His character’s theme song is Modest Mouse’s “The Whale Song.

If I had to assign a theme song to Rhodes, I think I would choose one of the remixes for Nine Inch Nails’s “Mr. Self-Destruct” (this came on my iPod on random play the other day, and it conjured such a clear image) or “The Ruiner” (My original nickname for him was “Ruiner,” but I thought the epithet was too clunky and erudite for teens in 2006).

I may post my full playlist for COLOSSUS or SERIAL KILLER, RET. once I get home.

If you liked this post, comment with a few songs you would choose for your book soundtrack and why, for shoot over to Twitter and tweet an artist and song (or a link to a video) at @JettimusMaximus with the hashtag #booksoundtrack. 


2 thoughts on “Fueled by Music

  1. Good post: it was deep due to the level of commitment required of artists and what not but you wrote it like you were speaking to someone…it didn’t read like you were looking at a dictionary. Plus, I love the NIN bit…and I swear some of those remixes Trent Reznor has done over the years are better than some of the original songs.


  2. I went a long time without ever listening to music while writing – I found it distracting, even if it was lyricless. But now that I have a good writing playlist, I love it. There’s something about background music that unlocks my brain. Maybe because as you said, silence can be blaring. When it’s silent I hear my own self-critical voice too loudly. Music settles me into a groove. I am especially fond of Balmorhea for sad/introspective scenes and the Oblivion movie soundtrack for action or intense scenes. I highly recommend them!

    Liked by 1 person

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