Monday, October 22, 2012

Music to Soothe the Savage Writer

Over the summer my husband noticed a song on one of my iPod playlists and wondered why on Earth I felt like listening to THAT? It was Hate Me by Blue October.  I'm prone to some blue periods, so his concern was genuine.  Is that how I was feeling? But when I answered that I wasn't listening to it for me, but for my character - I think he worried even more!

I first heard the song in spin class, during a time I was getting to know the characters in my current manuscript.  There was something about the haunting melody and angst-ridden lyrics that felt perfect for my male protagonist. I listened to it for quite some time - sometimes while writing - to put me in the character's frame of mind.  See, music is portable.  You can listen to it in the car, on a run, cleaning, folding laundry and still write in your head. With my ear buds in, I can multitask, even make dinner, while working out my plot and no one is the wiser.

I know I'm not the only writer who gets inspired by music. Stephen King listens to heavy metal so he can focus.  Stephanie Meyer even thanked the band, Muse, in her acknowledgements for inspiring her while she was writing the Twilight series.  I rarely listen to music while I write, but when I do, it's to tap into some emotion.  If I'm stuck in a scene, or have trouble feeling the mood I'm trying to create, listening to music sometimes helps.  I don't consciously put a playlist together, but when I'm finished with a novel I definitely have a soundtrack.  And every character, no matter how minor, almost always has a song.

So what about you Paper Waiters? Does music help or hurt your process?


  1. Hi Robin,

    I don't have a MP3 player, but I do occasionally listen to instrumental music or to kids songs on CD while I write at my computer. I have found it's hard for me to concentrate on my writing if there are lyrics. I want to sing along. :) Listening while doing tasks around the house is a great way to get "in character." I am thinking of asking for a MP3 player for Christmas. I'd like to listen to more audio books. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Hi Robin-- I listened to music purposefully as I was revising one of my jazz picture book manuscripts. I had to feel if the rhythm was right and it really helped to read it to myself as I was listening to jazz from the class that inspired the manuscript.

  3. Robin,
    As usual, you've written a humorous and interesting post! Always look forward to them.
    I agree with Linda, I can't concentrate on writing when music has lyrics, but I occasionally slip in a CD when I'm struggling with plot decisions or searching for the perfect word.

  4. I don't use music enough when I'm writing. I find it is a great technique for invoking certain emotions. When I feel it, it's much easier to write it.

  5. I don't listen to music while I write, but I've wondered if it would make a difference. I used to always listen to music -- when I was a kid, I'd walk in my room and turn on the radio. When I was single, I'd walk into my apartment and put on a CD. I think it was having kids, giving them all the attention when they were babies, that made that constant backdrop of music stop. maybe I'll try firing up Pandora while I write and see what happens.

  6. Linda - HI! Sometimes the only way I can do household stuff is by plugging in to my iPod - I find when I'm stuck in my writing, cleaning helps too!! I know there's probably some link to cleaning clutter and clearing the mind!

    Brianna - Now that's REALLY an interesting way to write! I do remember some of your musical stories and was always struck by how sensory they were!

  7. Gale - Thanks! I can't listen to lyrics and write either, which is why I usually don't listen to music while drafting. Sometimes I will listen when I'm doing edits, almost like a treat! But I have found it sometimes really does help when I'm trying to get back into a character's head!

    Julie - Exactly!

    JA - I know exactly what you mean - and I confess to picking my teenager's brain to find out what he's listening to, and I've actually found quite a few songs that way. Try it!!