Today, I’m excited to bring you a guest post about how music can help your writing by the fabulous Amanda J. Richter. Personally, I fall into the write in absolute (sometimes creepy) silence category, so I am pumped to soak up some of Amanda’s wisdom and see if any of her tips work for me. Enjoy and leave your comments/questions for her below!
When I was in high school my mom always scolded me for listening to music while I studied. She was convinced that if I wasn’t sitting in absolute silence I could not be concentrating. As I moved from high school to university I found I could use music strategically. When studying for exams I picked songs that were catchy and easy to remember and listened to them on a loop. Each class had its own song. In the exam I hummed as I wrote. Like magic, it helped me remember what I had studied.
It wasn’t magic though. As much as I would like to take credit, it’s not a new concept.
Stores use music to keep you shopping longer. Movies and television use music to set mood and tone. Try imagining a movie with no soundtrack—it would be weird. Commercials use jingles and song snippets to play on your memory and keep their product firmly ear-wormed in your brain. So it makes sense that writing with a soundtrack taps into how the world uses music around us.
Writing with a Soundtrack to Anchor
I use music the same way advertisers do. I pick one artist (or album) per writing project and listen on repeat until they become synonymous with each other. By building an association between the music and the story I am classically conditioning myself (see Pavlov). This helps get me into a creative mind-frame and dive into my characters, settings, and plots faster. As an added benefit I find having music on lessens other distractions; such as my need to check Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Associating music with writing keeps my mind on task longer.
Writing with a Soundtrack to Set the Mood
Much like in movies and television, writing with music can help you establish the mood of your scene or project. During NaNoWriMo 2014 I wrote a post-apocalyptic dystopia; I used a dark album, full of angst and lyrics surrounding drug addiction. This helped set the tone of the novel and kept my mind functioning in a space similar to what my characters were enduring.
When I am writing my fantasy pieces I listen to Celtic music or music from my favourite video game soundtrack. For my romantic piece I listen to modern pop music. By using different soundtracks for each genre/piece I can keep the mood/tone of the story in mind. It also helps me switch gears when I am working on multiple projects.
Writing with a Soundtrack for Inspiration and Against Writer’s Block
In my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel drug addiction was a side-note, just another tack for my characters to sit on. As I listened to the album I chose I realized that drug addiction was not something that should be a side-note. It is what my characters are fighting against as they come to terms with the loss of the world as they knew it. The music inspired me to take my characters in a different direction to the benefit of my story.
If you are a believer in writer’s block listening to music can help break through that frustration. It can help reboot your brain. When I run out of steam I often sit, close my eyes, and listen. After a few minutes my mind will wander and the ideas will flow again. Changing the music you are listening to can help you refocus. If you were listening to something dark and dreary then throw on something up beat and lively. Dance breaks are always encouraged.
Writing without Music
Not everyone can work with music. Many people find it distracting and end up singing along with the music instead of writing. That’s ok! Even as a person who needs music ninety percent of the time to be productive, there are always times I work better without music. If you find even the traffic, birds, or constant crying of your children distracting try ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones.
If you want to use music while you write, but feel that lyrics distract you, try classical or instrumental music to start. I often listen to instrumental movie soundtracks (Lord of the Rings; Avatar). Find what works for you and helps you be productive. Experiment! Try different kinds of music—even if you don’t end up using it while you write you might find something new to enjoy!