Using Music to Enhance Your Writing
What do you listen to when you write? A café’s busy chatter, nature’s quiet voices, or silence? Or, maybe you’re like me and put on some music. From a “white noise” backdrop for concentration to a method for setting and character development, music has an uncanny ability to enhance the writing process as well as the final product.
This method doesn’t appeal to all writers, but the growing number of examples out there prove that “music immersion” does help under the right circumstances. If you’d like to give it a try, here are instances from my own experience and from other writers to give you a jump-start.
Focus: If conversation and other noises distract you from writing, music can block them out and help you concentrate. When I work on articles, I turn on a playlist of new age instrumentals. Not only do the soft synths relax me, but they remind me of my current priority and keep me rooted in that necessary “mental zone.” Other writers use more dramatic selections. One in particular shared at Writer’s Digest that he relies on the Last Of The Mohicans soundtrack come deadline time!
Moods and Emotions: The right musical piece can help you express sadness, fear, happiness, or any other feeling you want to convey in your writing. Priscilla Gilman explained here how songs from West Side Story, Peter Gabriel, and Neil Young evoked pain and nostalgia as she wrote her memoir The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy. While working on my own novel recently, I put the “Fall of Gandalf” theme from the Lord Of The Rings soundtrack on repeat. That short but powerful symphonic-choral piece reflected the novel scene’s grief and remorse so perfectly, I stopped a few times to wipe away tears.
Settings: It’s true that music can take you places! The appropriate pieces can whisk writers away to a whole other environment and stir images of natural landmarks, architecture, even clothing. Nona Mae King wrote here that, for her book Searching For Sara, her classical music playlist was essential in immersing herself in late 19th century London. Also, Divergent author Veronica Roth has often said how music from the rock bands Flyleaf and The Showdown inspired her ideas for the Dauntless faction, while songs from folk and country artists like Bon Iver and Nickel Creek set the tone for Amity.
Character Development: Music can help you determine a character’s appearance, personality, and beliefs. It can also make you think and feel as your character would. Recently I listened to Evanescence and November-7 while creating a character profile on a homeless woman in her mid-20s who survives by pickpocketing, dumpster-diving, and running from the police. I have no clue when I’ll write about her, since my WIP is epic fantasy – but those songs molded her into a plucky, gritty, emotionally driven protagonist whose story fascinates me and needs to be written someday.
Here are other things to consider if you’d like to try writing to music:
Let your writing choose the music. Don’t just pick one of your all-time favorite songs. The music’s tone needs to match the tone of your piece. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish here? What kind of music will fit?” The right choice will blend in seamlessly with your work. An incompatible one will distract you or make you twinge with unease – a sure sign to skip to a different track.
Allow music to inspire you. Has a random tune ever sparked a new story idea? Or, have you misheard song lyrics in the past and decided you ought to “rewrite” the words because yours were ten times better than the original’s? Jot down your thoughts when those surprises happen, then revisit your notes a day or two later. If the ideas still resonate, take action as only a writer can.
Overlook the lyrics. This can be tricky, especially if you’re a fan of lyrics. However, sometimes the music alone may influence your writing, while the accompanying words will have nothing to do with your project. When this happens, do your best to tune out the lyrics by focusing on the feelings and sensations evoked by the soundscapes. This technique takes practice, but once you get the hang of it the possibilities for your craft will open tenfold.
Finally, if music distracts you too much, turn it down – or turn it off. You might find you prefer softer volume levels or even silence when scripting dialogue or describing action scenes. If that’s the case, follow your instincts. Every writer’s needs for sound immersion will differ, just as every writer’s process is unique.
What do you think? Has music enhanced your writing experience in some way? Or, do you prefer other sounds or silence?
Sara Letourneau thrives on practicing versatility as a writer. Her poetry has been published in The Curry Arts Journal, Soul-Lit, The Eunoia Review, Underground Voices, and two anthologies. She also freelances on occasion and was previously a staff writer for the Sonic Cathedral Webzine. Sara is currently working on her second novel (her first completed one is unpublished). Visit her website (http://saraletourneau.wordpress.com) and public Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/sara.letourneau.official) for more information.See other articles by Sara Letourneau