Thursday, February 13, 2014

Invoking the Music for Your Writing

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While I was writing a story a couple weeks ago I tried what many authors do while they write which is playing music in the background. Writers such as Steven King and Christopher Adam have said they have played music to support the quality of their writing. It's been said that Harlan Ellison has done the same. Playing music as you write can enhance creativity and increase motivation.

Music is inspiring and so it fuels the imagination. When you listen to music (music videos excluded) the mind is forced to imagine what is going on in the song.  It shouldn't be surprising that the word music comes from muse which were goddesses in Greek mythology believed to inspire artists' and writers' work, especially great epics such as Homer's Odyssey. Writing coach Lauren Sapala says on her blog that "Music triggers an emotional response in the human brain. Because of this involuntary response, it’s much easier to let down our guard and let our creativity do exactly what it wants." She especially talks about this in terms of character creation. I strongly suggest to other writers to check out her article, "How Music Can Help You Write Better Characters", especially if they're fiction writers like myself.

Steven King says in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, that he has written to hard rock music playing in the background, music by bands such as Guns N' Roses and AC/DC. He says it's a "way of keeping the mundane world out" (On Writing 156). While this sounds more like it helps concentration, "keeping the mundane world out" definitely provides room for the imaginary worlds to come in. Adam Christopher, author of the novel Empire State and its sequel, The Age Atomic, keeps a list of songs for each story he writes. For example, he has a playlist for Age Atomic alone, the list consisting of songs by artists ranging from Count Basie to The Cure ("The Age Atomic Playlist." The Age Atomic).

To be honest, it's hard for me to say how much the music I played helped me write my story. I'm sure it motivated me to write and enhanced my work on a subconscious level. But I can say that when I've played music while working on my art, much of that I use for illustrations to accompany my stories, it has helped me to both focus and submerse myself in the work. I've known that to be the case ever since my high school art classes when our teacher, a very open minded and hip guy, would allow us to play the classroom stereo as we worked.

My real writing motivation comes from thinking of the act of writing as a journey. In this manner I can move my characters through scenes that I let spontaneously come to mind; I like to surprise and fascinate myself and so I never concretely plan my entire story in my head before the act. In that respect I'm already inspired, at least as far as the conscious level goes. However, the manner is very similar to the way I listen to music which is also a journey of the mind for me.

I do my journey through music best when laying back on my living room couch listening to it and doing nothing else. I don't even write notes of the fantasies that the music inspires; I fly through them in my head and, sometime after, they will eventually form into story ideas. To write down the fantasies after a music session probably works really good for some writers. But my musical fantasies can go way way out even beyond the outer limits (or at least it seems) and so to a point where it would be too hard to record them word for word. So I often have to let them settle into stories that can be more easily communicated.

So music often enhances writing creativity and motivation but the way it does these varies among writers. The same can be said of what kind of music works best for writing inspiration. For me it's the genres and artists I love listening to anytime: old school rock such as that by the Beatles and Bee Gees; sixties soul; 70's disco; bop and fusion jazz; today's electronica such as that by Daft Punk. Whether I listen to these during my writing sessions or outside them, it inspires my work. What's most important is to let the imagination soar because when it does it's going to help you with your storytelling either immediately or gradually.

Do you write to background music? How much has it helped your writing? Do certain kinds of music help you write better and more imaginatively than others? Please feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . .