Music and Writing

Goldie Goldbloom, my current workshop instructor, has been urging us to really immerse ourselves in the tone and feeling of our fiction submissions. Meaning, she wants us to think deeply about place/location—even going so far as to draw a map of where our story is set. She’s also recommending that while we write, we listen to music that is relevant to our story. I’m conflicted about this advice. On the one hand, I think listening to music can help you set the tone of your work, and that tone may well come out beautifully in the writing. At the same time, I have difficulty writing alongside any music containing words, so my music go-tos are usually jazz or avant-garde classical: Edgar Varese, Thelonious Monk, Mum, Django Reinhardt, Cecilia Bartoli, Cesaria Evora (those last 2 are singers, but if I can’t understand the language, words are weirdly okay). But I admit, none of those musicians has anything remotely to do with my story. If I was going to listen to music pertinent to my manuscript, it’d likely be 70s country rock, which I find tough to write with.

Because I’ve been thinking about this lately, this article on The Millions literary magazine about book “soundtracks” really hit home. I agree with the author that the popularity of this idea has much to do with readers feeling as though it allows them to know the author more intimately and have insights into aspects of the work that might otherwise be hidden. And, I do love the idea of curating a soundtrack to my novel after it’s written.

This train of thought reminded me of an interview I did with author/teacher Elizabeth Merrick for Venus Zine a few years ago. Reading this again reminded me that although she loved to listen and write, for her, listening to music was only possible during certain phases of the writing process. So, maybe I just need to try out the 70s country rock while generating text rather than during the editing phase, as I’ve been doing. Fingers crossed. 

Do you listen to music while you’re writing?

In the early phases, yes. I’ll drive and drive and drive and the stories will show up. And then at a certain point, the music will start jangling and I’ll hear the characters speaking, and I’ll have to turn the music off. What the music does is get me into my right brain-all of the intuition stuff-and then once I can access that and the story is there, I turn it off. The music for me is the way to feel unconstricted. 

Tags: