Saturday, November 14, 2009

Writing and Music: To Listen, or Not to Listen

With the "busyness" of life on this side of the computer, I come to you with a humble heart and apologies for not posting anything last Saturday. Truly, I am a bad, bad blogger. However, despite the larger hurdles I've jumped recently, I have thought a great length about today's topic.

Duke Orsino opens the play Twelfth Night with one of my favorite quotes: "If music be the food of love, then play on." Never was a statement more filled with truth, in my opinion. Music is such a part of our lives, regardless of how, where, what, and when we listen to it. For my part, music adds a fourth dimension to my writing life: it generates ideas for plot and character, and encourages thoughts into words that flow onto the page. My writing would be flatter without music.

However, the question I'd like to throw out is simply, "Do you listen to music when you write?"

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer; like most everything in writing, it's all a matter of opinion. Many famous writers have declared they do not listen to music while they write: Nora Roberts, for example, considers writing her profession and therefore treats it like a business, sans music. On the other hand, I have read about some published authors who use music's energy to write, while others use music to literally block out everything else.

My writing is very much tied into music. Usually I listen to soundtrack music while writing scenes, though I have been known to use upbeat rock to write faster-paced scenes. At times, however, my inner writer will grab onto a song and won't let go until I have written that scene replaying in my mind. Those are the times when I plug in my iPod and put the song on repeat until I'm finished - something my husband finds immensely amusing.

It's true, sometimes I use music to put myself into a writing mood. Most of the time, however, music is my passenger in the drive through writing a story. Sometimes it helps me navigate my way through a scene; other times it takes control and leads me on a merry chase. How do you use music in your writing life?

By the way, I am listening to Enya's Christmas CD as I type this post. Seems fitting on this chilly morning so close to the start of the holidays.


Colleen M. said...

I usually get distracted by music that has lyrics when I'm working - be that at work or when I'm writing. At work I listen to a jazz station that has very few lyrical songs played. When I write I love LOVE listening to Chris Botti who is a trumpet player. I also love other instrumental music. At Christmas I'll usually throw on one of several Christmas albums I have, even if they are lyrical, because the music is so familiar that I can "ignore" the words ;) That being said there are songs out there with lyrics that will just scream a setting or a character and I'll use it for inspiration, just not while I'm writing ;)

Sheila said...

It kinda depends on what I'm writing and whether it's flowing or not, but generally, instrumentals are much easier to work to than vocals. My current instrumental playlist includes some new age/ambient things (David Arkenstone, Mannheim Steamroller, George Winston, Karda Estra) and world (Ottmar Liebert, Huayucaltia, Jalan Jalan), but also a lot of weird, off-the-wall stuff like Popcorn, Baby Elephant Walk, the original Mission: Impossible theme, and a really bizarre spaghetti-western version of the Star Wars theme. It's mostly upbeat stuff, because the quiet stuff makes me too sleepy (and that's a different playlist).

But sometimes I really need a little rock 'n' roll to make it happen.

Another thing I use music for is when I get stuck, plot-wise. I haul out the iPod or call up the music player, switch to my rock/vocal playlist, turn on the random function, and skip ahead three songs. Then I have to take some aspect of that song -- whether it's the title, some of the lyrics, a thematic idea, or even just an impression that I get from listening to it -- and work it into the next section of my story. Sometimes it works better than others, but so far it has never failed to at least get the plot moving again.