Writerly Wednesday–Writing and Music

….Okay, so today is Thursday, not Wednesday. Sh. Don’t tell anyone.

Writing is a very solitary pursuit. No matter who you are, you basically end up alone in a room with the computer screen glowing before you (in days of yore, pen and paper were used–imagine!). Something has to keep us writers company. If it’s not other people (even if a writer sits in a crowded cafe to write, they’re basically alone), then it often has to be music.

For a writer, music can serve many purposes. It can set the mood. If you need to get angry, or someone in the story is furious, then some death metal will get your juices flowing. If you want peacefulness, maybe some soothing classical music. Or Enya.

Music can also just serve as background music. A lot of times, when I put on music while I write, it’s music I know very well. It doesn’t take any conscious effort to listen to it. My brain tunes it out–and dumps it straight into my unconscious. And while it’s doing that, it isn’t–thank God–bothering me. So strangely, putting on music actually mutes part of my brain. I can focus.

For me, music can also be about evoking the time period. Eighteenth century? Well, put on some Mozart or Haydn–something nice and classical, preferably upbeat. (I like the stuff with real strong melody (hence, Mozart and Haydn). I enjoy the airy, playful, beauty-loving side of the century.) Nineteenth century? Try some classical hymns and spirituals (more on these later). If I were writing in the twentieth century, I’d probably break out the appropriate music (jazz, rockabilly, big band, whatever).

Sometimes, the music gets all mixed up with the story. As I was writing one piece seven or eight years ago, I listened almost exclusively to Coldplay’s Parachutes. Now every time I hear that album, I get this strange, reflexive memory of that story. It’s like remembering a dream, and it’s very eerie. The album has a melancholy feel to it; not by coincidence, so does that story.

Of course, that was when I listened to a Discman and could only listen to one CD at a time. Now my computer and MP3 player have a ton of songs. Like most of the world, I’ve moved to singles and away from albums.

But that hasn’t stopped me from associating a few songs/albums strongly with my writing. I’ve been listening to a lot of fun.’s Some Nights, and a lot of the Marie-Antoinette movie soundtrack (a wonderful soundtrack made up mostly of ’80’s punk).

Here are a few particular songs that have strong associations for me:

My favorite. This song by Queen is fantastic in its own right. But the lyrics really seal the deal for me. Every time I listen to the song, I think of Nicole d’Oliva and the novel I wrote about her. Marie-Antoinette is mentioned; Paris is mentioned; and she “spoke just like a baroness” (Nicole pretended to be a baroness for a time). The swagger fits the time period, too. I would love nothing more than to see a movie version of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace that had a montage to this song. I can see it now: Nicole getting dressed up in her elaborate eighteenth century finery to the strains of Killer Queen.

This one I tend to associate with the time I spent at home, in the 200-year-old house I grew up in. I was beginning to work on my Antebellum South project. The spirituality and sadness in the song fit with the story and the setting–and I still think of that time when I hear it.

This one is inextricably linked for me to a particular character. He’s a duelist and a fugitive. He’s cheeky and irreverent. He’s a good person in general, but has a wicked streak. I love him to death (in fact, I loved him so much that I did, indeed, kill him by the end of the novel).

And while I was writing about the Antebellum South, I decided to listen to some authentic tunes from the time. Here are a few from the Civil War and the years leading up to it:

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