Music as Writing Inspiration

by Fae Rowen

First of all, on this Veteran’s Day week-end, a heartfelt THANK YOU to all those who serve our country in the Armed Forces. And to the families that support them. My father was in the Army, my husband served in the Coast Guard, and my godson is currently a pilot in the Navy. Won’t it be wonderful if they all could be at home?

I’ve always been connected to music. Heck, I played the piano competitively. In fifth grade, the only thing I wanted for Christmas  was a recording of The Moldau by Bedrich Smetana – and the sheet music to Batman. I became that river with its sometimes dancing sometimes powerful current every time I heard it.  My soul sang when I listened to it.

In junior high I moved on to movie soundtracks–The Robe, Exodus, Cleopatra–remembering scenes from the movie as the tracks played.

It’s no wonder that when I wrote my first novel, a fantasy medieval adventure romance (I never intended to try to sell it!), I listened to the same song over and over and over. Sting’s Fields of Gold supplied scene after scene of ideas as well as the tone of the book. In fact, I named the hero’s home after the title of the only song in my playlist.

My gothic medieval was born from St. Elmo’s Fire, Man in Motion. More on that later.

The music you select doesn’t have to relate to the setting of your book. But for me, the music supplies the tone, the background, and the through-line for my characters. When you’re writing, you don’t need to blast your speakers. For me, the music is soft. Not so soft that I wonder if it’s there, but not so loud as to actively engage me in listening.

Movie soundtracks support all the emotions in the picture, so they are wonderful sources of “mood music” for scenes you may be having difficulty with. Think of Braveheart. From innocent love, to battles, to betrayal, to torture and death, you’ve got it all in the music.

The next movie you watch, let a section of your brain pay attention to the music. If you really enjoy a movie, consider listening to snippets of the soundtrack on iTunes to see if the music added to the richest of your experience. One of the first things I did after seeing Star Wars was buy the soundtrack. Darth Vader’s theme is wonderful when writing a villain!

An interesting thing happened recently with my WIP, a YA science fiction tale. I was half a dozen chapters in, when I realized that the new must have additions to my iPOD were all related to the new book. I hadn’t really listened to the lyrics-it’s all about the rhythm and melody for me-so I downloaded the lyrics. Wow!

Little did I know when I downloaded this group of songs, they all related to my new book.  I just knew that I finally had time and remembered to buy the songs I’d liked enough to capture with SoundHound.

I tried an interesting experiment. When I wrote a scene in a character’s POV, I played that person’s song. It helped me settle right into their outlook on life, and their emotions about their situations. The writing was easier, my critique group had less complaints (okay, obviously last week I wrote without music!) I felt nourished and couldn’t wait to get back in my chair for the next pages.

A secret, just between us. That gothic medieval? Well, the whole idea for the book came from the theme to St. Elmo’s Fire. The song gave me the pivotal scene, the black moment when the hero confronts his stepfather’s hate-filled ways. From that scene, it was not too difficult to backtrack and see how they got to that point. The whole book was about breaking the boy but not the man when he returned to his birthplace as a knight.

If you’ve been drawn to a particular song or kind of music recently, see if there’s a parallel with your current project. You might be surprised.

I hope you enjoy the links to the music I’ve mentioned. I really enjoyed listening to them again.

Have you used music for writing inspiration? Has music guided you to write something differently than you’d originally envisioned? Let us know, while you listen to the music!

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36 Responses to Music as Writing Inspiration

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Wow, Fae, listening to the same song for a whole book? I’d have to poke holes in both eardrums, just to make it stop!
    Don’t get me wrong, I do listen to music while I write – but it’s classical, in the background. I’ve tried other things, but I’m like Pavlov’s Pooch – anything with words has me singing along, and it pulls me right out of the writing.
    ‘Mood music’ is great for me – sometimes, just sounds of rain, or rainforest sounds are wonderful – subliminally calming me, and opening the flow of creativity.

    Can’t wait to see how different everyone is in their tastes!

    • Each of my first three books had their own song. Yep, over and over and over, in the days where I would re-record the song on a 90-minute tape. Both sides. Since, for me, it’s all about the music, the words usually fade out anyway.
      -Fae

  2. I’ve blogged about music for over 10 years, I’m a singer/songwriter, and I’m working on my second mystery, and somehow it never occurred to me to USE the music to help me write. D’oh.

    I listen to loud instrumentals of all kinds when I write, but now I’ll go find music that matches and use my limbic system to show the way for the prefrontal cortex.

    • Joel, your loud instrumentals are what I hear when I listen to what I call my “angry young man” music. In fact, I buy a song on the strength of the music, then, after I’ve listened to it for hours, I may take an interest in paying attention to the lyrics. Fire up that limbic system!
      -Fae

  3. I so wish I could have music on when I write. I need silence.

  4. Ah, Fae … you tough my heart strings, you pluck at the cords of my soul. Has music inspired, kept me company, gotten me through the best and worst of all in my life? You bet it has. My VERY FIRST memory was in the crib listening to my cousin’s clunky 78 opera records. My dad was a lover and when my cousin lived with us, he was sent to Nirvana. Every phase of my life has been accentuated by the sounds of different music, from the opera to classical to rock ‘n roll. Who could live without the blues? Country music makes me smile, jazz is for dark smoky nights sitting at the window and watching a slow snow. Celo and classical guitar are romantic, Latin is full of life and color … I could go on, but this is a comment not a post !!

    I do have certain music that has caused an entire story … one song … an entire novella. My characters and the settings are not always directly connected to music … but the sounds of certain types do remind me of them. HOWEVER … I can’t listen and write at the same time. I do it before and after or on breaks to get energy or inspiration. Thanks so much … I can always depend on WITS to start my week off right … “If music be the food of love … play on …”🙂

    • Thanks for your kind comments. Wish we could touch cell phones and trade playlists!
      When I stopped playing the piano competitively, I started taking voice lessons, thinking I wanted to be an opera singer. I even took Italian classes. Yes, I’m right there with you at the opera. Even though you can’t listen while you write, you’ve found how to let the music help with the word flow. Yeah!
      -Fae

  5. Tammy Salyer says:

    Great post, and one that I completely resonate with. I often make whole playlists for each character. And when I’m *really* procrastinating, I make playlists for each scene.

  6. Lovely tip about examining whether a piece of music is calling to you from your WIP. Do I use music to write? All the time. It started when I wrote a novel about a musician but the music I used went way beyond the pieces in the text. They were the texture of a scene, the hopes and fears of the main character. When I blogged about it I found a whole bunch of writers who did this too. Ever since, they’ve been guesting on my blog for a series called The Undercover Soundtrack. Fae – and everyone – you’re welcome to drop me a line if you’d like to guest too. http://www.mymemoriesofafuturelife.com

  7. Julie Glover says:

    I usually write with complete quiet. However, in my current WIP, I have two POVs, and I’m learning that it helps to play music I could imagine each character playing when I write in their POV. It does set the mood and voice for me.

  8. Vicky Green says:

    This is a great idea. I listen to music once in a while when I write because I’ve seen so many authors mention music while they write. I have a song that matches with my current WIP’s working title. I’m going to start listening to it over and over. I can totally see how different songs can help the author move a story along. A song, after all, is a story in itself.
    Vicky

  9. amyskennedy says:

    Loved this. I got so many ideas from Shinedown’s Sounds of Madness CD — the whole thing! I have a whole YA paranormal that ties into that album. And now I am finding so many parallels with Florence and the Machine’s Lungs and Ceremonials. That one came after the fact, but inspires me every day!

  10. What a terrific idea! Speaking as a trained musician, I love the idea of using theme tunes for characters to associate with them whilst crafting the story. I shall start consciously using this idea now – I suspect that I have been doing it in my head anyway but just not realised it. The novel I wrote earlier this year is set in Bangladesh and I was hearing all sorts of Ragas and Bangla songs while I wrote it – all in my head – because I was thinking about Bangladesh. Now I shall start thinking about putting certain ones to certain characters to help influence me as I develop and flesh out the story. Thanks a lot for the tip!

  11. Music is such a good source of inspiration. I need silence when I write but I listen to music before a writing session to get me on the right mood and mindset. I have songs for characters and some specific scenes. I can spend hours and days picking music and procrastinating so I try to choose just few songs and start writing. More will come later when something I hear really clicks in a new way.

  12. I used to play movie soundtracks in the background when doing some gruelly day job work. It helped. I never thought to use music to support my writing in the way you’ve described. I may try it. Thank you.

  13. Sharla Rae says:

    I’ve tried to write to music but I need silence. I think maybe it’s because I slip back in back in time when writing my historicals. I’m totally there and I find the music distracting. Still, I know many writers who love listening to music. That’s not to say that when I’m not writing music hasn’t given me great ideas and inspired me to return to my desk.

    • I hear you, Sharla. When I’m deep editing I need the silence. Probably the music of your historical “time zone” is different enough to distract your brain from the writing, so I won’t suggest tryingany late nineteenth century composers.
      -Fae

  14. Fae,
    I’m both an editor and a writer. I listen to music when I do both. For me, it must be completely instrumental, in a foreign language, or chants of some kind. I’m too into lyrics to avoid being distracted by music with lyrics in English. I tend toward pretty soothing stuff: Nawang Khechog, William Ackerman, Gregorian Chants, Deva Premal, Kevin Asbjornson, George Winston, Michael Hedges, and Snatam Kauer. Classical music works, too. Bruch (concertos and symphonies), Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, collections of popular classical, etc. I’ve edited entire books (fiction and nonfiction) to the same artist or type of music when it just seemed to be the thing called for with that work. For several months, my fallback position is William Ackerman’s Conferring with the Moon or his Imaginary Roads.

    Music sets the tone to the work for me. It keeps my energy field clear. It maintains a certain vibration that fascilitates the process.

    Thanks for discussing this.

    Melanie Mulhall

    • Oh, Melanie, thanks for your “playlist.” Gregorian chants, actually any kind of chant, is great. I’ll check out William Ackerman. If you’ve read my post on the vibrational energy of crystals, you know I’m right there with you, so acquiring another composer is fantastic. Thank you.
      -Fae

  15. sarahneeve says:

    A warm hello to Fae and everyone, from here in England (thought I’d get that out of the way first).
    I’m usually a quiet backseat reader, but this post in particular tweaked my fingers to respond.
    I’m an avid fan of listening to music to help with the writing process, I’ve been doing it since I was seven, when I found my first love, poetry. Every Sunday morning, my father would get out his Classical LP’s and I would listen in wonder to the music (sometimes I’d even pretend I was a ballerina and dance around the living room, but that’s not relevant). It also inspired me to learn the flute, which at one point, I was playing for the county orchestra. Sadly, an injury to my teeth put paid to my dreams of playing for the London Philharmonic (and yes, that was only a dream).
    I’m straying from the point, I tend to do that!
    The music I listen to before I begin writing a scene comes from the following list:
    City & Colour, The Paper Kites, Snow Patrol, Adele. The list is endless.
    However, the music I use during the writing process itself — because her work whips my little grey cells into a frenzy — is Helen Jane Long. She is a magnificent pianist and has produced pieces for TV and film. Her music is truly inspirational (well, to me anyway).
    I’ll stop there, if not , you won’t be able to shut me up. And believe me, that’s not a good thing!
    Thank you for the brilliant post, I’ve loved reading it as well as the other comments.
    Sarah.

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  18. Mary Roya says:

    This is wonderful and very helpful.

  19. I love music when I’m writing and I actual make a playlist for each scene. I have a break-up list or a love scene list. It helps me keep the emotion going.🙂

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