Music and writing

Posted by Shannon Haddock on August 29, 2014 in Writing process |
Jimmy Buffett

Cover of Jimmy Buffett

There are authors who can’t write unless there’s complete silence.  There are authors who can’t write without listening to a meticulously created playlist.  I’m neither of these.  Silence makes me wonder what my pets are up to.  They have a magical ability to know when I’m writing and decide it’s time for me to play with them.  Silence while I’m writing means they’ve found something fascinating in the trash, or a dead bug, or something else that they really don’t need to get into.  Or the mighty huntress cat caught a brown recluse and is about to bring it to me, though I seriously hope my screaming convinced her to never do that again.  I’ve tried the meticulously created playlist thing.  For me, it’s just another way to feel like I’m working on something at least tangentially related to writing when I’m really procrastinating.  (This blog entry may be the same sort of thing  . . . )

But, I do listen to music when I write usually.  There are many reasons for this.  One of them is that my neighbors on one side of the loudest ac in the universe and it’s right outside our window.  Another is that my neighbors on the other side like to having screaming fights with each other any time I’m trying to really concentrate on something.  Another is that there’s a tone deaf guy down the street who likes to loudly sing karaoke all day on the weekends, sometimes accompanied by what can charitably be called guitar playing.  (By the way, profits from purchasing my books will help me move to a neighborhood without these nuisances.  Just saying . . .)  The biggest though is that it’s a bit of a signal to my brain saying, “Okay, time to quit fucking around and get down to business.”  And, sometimes, it helps me get in the mood to write specific characters.

I don’t, as I said before, do the playlist thing for stories, but some characters have . . . not really their own playlists, but songs I listen to when I’m having trouble getting into their heads.  Bobby, the protagonist and narrator of No More Lies and “Once A Hero, Always A Hero” and the thing I’m currently writing that really needs a good title, possibly has the oddest combo of songs that help me get into his head.  The artists on that list range from Eminem to Mary Chapin Carpenter to Bon Jovi.  Oh, and Jimmy Buffett.  Viktor, on the other hand, the other protagonist of “Once A Hero, Always A Hero” who is the viewpoint character in many, many unfinished and probably abandoned stories, has a much less eclectic mix of artists.  Mostly for him I listen to Jackson Browne and . . . well, pretty much anything depressing sounding.

Music is also a big part of where I get my inspiration for stories from.  “The New Bar” was inspired by “If I Can Find A Clean Shirt” by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.  Bits of No More Lies we’re inspired by “Measure of a Man” by Jack Ingram.  I’ve got bits and pieces of ideas, not enough to write yet, but ideas nonetheless, from “If I Die Young” by by The Band Perry, “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks, and “Incommunicado” by Jimmy Buffett.  And that’s just the ones I can remember at 5:30 in the morning.  Apparently country is all I can think of at this hour.  Weird.  Especially since that’s not what I’m listening to.

And sometimes, there are songs that feel like some of my ideas were put to music.  “This Is Love, This Is Life” by Bon Jovi pretty much is the story that goes between No More Lies and its epilogue, the story that I have the horrible feeling I’m going to end up writing someday despite not really wanting to.

And I’m sure I had some kind of actual point when I started this, but damned if I can recall it now.  Oh well.  I’m posting this anyway.  It’s a fascinating look into the mind of an insomniac author on the morning of her 34th birthday.  One day I’ll be famous and you can use this to prove your point in some essay you’re writing about me for a lit class or something.

(I have no idea why the Laura Ingalls thing was considered a related article, but I’m actually on a mailing list to keep up with news about the book’s release date, so I’m sharing it with you anyway because I’m so excited that it’s looking closer.)

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  • It IS fascinating to see what goes on in an author’s mind in the small hours. (Happy birthday, by the way.) That’s probably when the two halves of a person’s brain are most likely to communicate with each other, and that communication (“Rationality, meet Imagination — you two have more in common than you realize.”) is where a lot of good creative stuff comes from.

    My clone-sibling has playlists for when he’s working on his fiction, but he just uses them to get into the characters’ heads. I do pretty much the same thing, although I don’t have playlists as such — I listen to music BEFORE writing, rather than during.

    • Thanks.

      It’s definitely when I’m the most creative, but unfortunately my inner editor apparently goes to bed a lot earlier than me so it’s also when I end up leaving words out and forgetting what I’m talking about.

      I left out that there are some things . . . mostly emotionally intense scenes . . . that I can’t write with music playing. For those I have to have silence because I need to be able to concentrate on nothing but what the characters are doing and saying.

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