There are two types of writers, where music is concerned—those who listen to it while they write, and those who do not. They either love it, or, while intrigued, they’re completely overwhelmed by the idea of actually trying it. And while I now find it so much easier to get lost in my novels when I’ve got the perfect playlist of mood music to write to, that used to be me: Little Miss Overwhelmed. Every experiment ended with a blank piece of paper, some ridiculous song stuck in my head, and a lot of frustration, because there was obviously something wrong with my brain, right?
That really bugged me. Why did all these other people have such a great creative tool at their disposal and I didn’t? And that was my problem. I’d found a ton of tips about how to boost your creativity juices through music, but there weren’t a lot of tips about how to go about this if you aren’t accustomed to listening to music while you work. So this is for everyone: ways to enhance your writing through music, and how to get there without driving yourself crazy. And that means taking baby steps.
- Get music:
(Don’t bootleg. It’s rude, and illegal. Don’t be rude.) Whether you possess a fabulous collection on iTunes, enjoy the randomness of Pandora, or have a floor-to-ceiling wall of CDs, tapes, records or whatever, the bigger your collection, the more inspiration you have at your fingertips. My personal favorite source: Spotify. Every time I log in, I feel like I own every song ever made, and it’s 100% worth the ten bucks a month. You can listen to what you want when you want, ad-free, create multiple playlists, and they already have a “genre/mood” section for the days you’re feeling lazy.
- Watch your volume:
We’re getting comfortable listening while we write, not jamming, so keep it low. The more used to it you get, the louder you can go, but if it ever becomes a distraction, take it down a few notches. Bump it up again when you’re ready.
- Classical music:
Even operatic pieces and those featuring a choir are easier to fade into the background than catchy verses, complicated lyrics, and anything with too much movement. Soloist piano or violin pieces are a great first try. Once you’re comfortable, experiment with a full orchestra and choirs.
- Film and television scores:
The creepy, suspenseful beats before the victim meets her killer. The sweet, lilting notes as our sweethearts share their first kiss. Movies and television are basically the audio/visual version of books, and with music alone, composers are able to convey to us, as viewers, how to react emotionally—before we even know what’s happening.
Think about Harry Potter. I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t handle the opening of Deathly Hallows Part 2 without the waterworks starting. It’s not the dialogue or the picture on the screen…it’s that dang music. My brain automatically files it into the “this is the beginning of the end of my beloved Harry Potter” folder, and I’m finished.
The score is the heartbeat of the movie. Done right, they add the extra sprinkle of sugar needed to perfect the scenes they portray. Done wrong, at best, we feel cheated as viewers, and at worst, it can ruin our entire viewing experience.* Can you imagine watching a marriage proposal to the theme song from Jaws? (Actually, will someone do that, please? That would be awesome!)
- Get lyrical:
Once you’re comfortable writing to background music, you can start experimenting with more traditional songs. Send your characters on a road trip with your radio favorites, or amp up the metal when the fists start flying. Let them step back in time with some classics, or throw that dance music on and hit the clubs. Whatever puts you in the mood, whatever that mood may be.
A few things to try:
Most shows feature songs from our favorite artists, new and old alike (movies do this too, but there’s a lot more at your disposal from a 24 episode season than a 2 hour movie). My personal favorite playlists are all from the CW (no judging! I write YA!). The Vampire Diaries is especially genius with their music. I choose key pieces that remind me of the scenes they’re connected to—the ones that have already made me feel something akin to what I’m working on, and with the mood set, the creativity flows. I keep my Soundhound (an app that records and identifies tunes you’re listening to in under ten seconds) handy when I’m watching TV (or anywhere, really), so I can tag what grabs me to find on Spotify later. When I forget, I prowl Heard on TV or TuneFind, which list songs featured in shows and films by season and episode.
Your character’s favorite songs/music genre:
This isn’t just for your M.C. Step inside the musical mind of those elusive side characters, or better yet, your villains (Because every villain deserve a good theme song. It’s like, a law). Bonus points if it’s something they’d listen to in the scene you’re working on.
Your book soundtrack:
Assign a theme song to each chapter or scene from your novel. This works especially well once you’re working through edits. Don’t aim for theme songs that go with what you have, aim for what you’re trying to achieve. Some of these are going to be identical to your initial choices, but the wonky scenes that aren’t where they should be don’t need their own theme song. They need a theme song to aspire to.
Come back Thursday for another musical tip with your writing prompt!
*Not every musical tone needs to reflect the scene they represent. A juxtaposition of dark content with light tones can produce some of the most beautiful, emotionally charged scenes I’ve ever seen. (If you watch The Vampire Diaries or The Originals on CW, you already know.)