Music and Noveling: the (not so) hidden secrets of writerly rituals

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Many writers, when asked, claim that they listen to music while writing.

“It puts me in the right frame of mind,” one will say. “I use it to keep myself motivated,” another insists.

Some people start off their novels with some easy listening: a few delicious love songs, maybe the latest pop ear-candy tune. Others begin with death metal… they’re writing a horror and really, you can’t drop into that kind of narrative riding the waves of elevator musak, right?

I am not one of those writers.

I can’t listen to music at all while writing. It distracts me. I can’t handle the gobs of words heading for my auditory sensors—not and type coherent sentences. However, that doesn’t mean music has no influence on me at all. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Music is an incredibly useful tool when it comes to writing: it’s inspiration, motivation, relaxation, and illumination all rolled together into one nifty package. During the writing of Disintegrate, just before I put fingers to keyboard, I played a song that best expressed the atmosphere of the chapter I was working on. As a result, I have a fantabulous mix of music for the entire book.

Curious? Here is the list—there’s a song for every chapter:

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Chapter One: Sit Down, Stand Up (Snakes & Ladders) by Radiohead
Chapter Two: The Time Is Now by Moloko
Chapter Three: Caught a Long Wind by Feist
Chapter Four: Little by Little by Radiohead
Chapter Five: Driven to Tears by Sting
Chapter Six: Runaway Train by Brandon Boyd
Chapter Seven: Trap Doors by Broken Bells
Chapter Eight: Don’t Blow It by Cliff Martinez
Chapter Nine: Sad by Maroon 5
Chapter Ten: Love Come by Sarah McLachlan
Chapter Eleven: Breathe Again by Sara Bareilles
Chapter Twelve: I Need to Know by Kris Allen
Chapter Thirteen: Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye
Chapter Fourteen: Trespassing by Adam Lambert
Chapter Fifteen: Closing In by Imogen Heap
Chapter Sixteen: The End of the Game by Sting
Epilogue: Lights by Ellie Goulding

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10 thoughts on “Music and Noveling: the (not so) hidden secrets of writerly rituals

  1. I can’t agree more, Christine Klocek-Lim. Sadly, I recognized only one of the songs you listed, “Somebody That I Used to Know.”

  2. Totally agree! I don’t need someone else’s words in my head when I’m trying to get them on the page. I do use instrumentals as inspiration. Sometimes I’ll start the song and barrel through the scene as fast as I can while the song plays.

  3. Reblogged this on Writing Sprint and commented:
    I sometimes use instrumentals as inspiration for a scene. I’ll start the song, then barrel through the scene as fast as I can. Sometimes I only throw down fragments to develop into scenes later. It’s the feeling in the music that I’m trying to get down.

    • Yes, the ‘feeling’ of the music is the thing for me too! Instrumentals are very emotional for me and tend to really influence how I’m feeling, sometimes more than music with lyrics. Chopin’s preludes are overwhelming at times, and some few others as well. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I often listen to orchestral soundtracks to both video games and music. Most sections have a theme song of some sort – a piece of music that evokes the characters, the mood, the tone, that drive the emotional arc of the scene.

    • True. Writing is an incredibly subjective task. Other writers and teachers have all kinds of advice and rules that are helpful, except when they’re totally not. I think, ultimately, every writer must work through the words alone and find the way that the words most easily work through the writer.

      Also, I’ve discovered over the years, that doing one thing one day doesn’t necessarily mean it will help the next day. Writing is much more organic than that (for me).

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