Music & Writing

It’s fair to say that music has a very large impact on my life. After all, my day job is teaching it to every age group imaginable. (Well, not every age. The babies aren’t allowed to start until they can sit up by themselves.) But what is a bit less obvious is how much music has an effect on my writing.

I’ve discussed it briefly before, but thought it would be interesting to have an in depth look at exactly how I use music to fuel my creativity, and later my productivity.

I’m one of those people who has a playlist for everything. I’m talking chores, exercise, studying and, of course, writing. Most of these playlists have a specific genre or style. For example, if I’m studying I’m usually listening to classical music or film scores. (Though I do find that remixes of songs I love seem to help me focus for some reason.) But writing is more about the mood and the lyrics of the song.

So it goes like this; every story starts with an idea. Now, that’s fantastic, but what do you do with that idea? Well, I write it down, and then start making a playlist. Every song I hear that reminds me of that idea is shoved into a playlist. To start with everything is extremely messy. It’s just a bunch of random songs that remind me of something. But as the plot gets more detailed, the songs in the playlist gets more particular. They both effect each other – sometimes I hear a song which inspires me to create a whole new plot point. Other times, the plot sends me on a search for a new song for the playlist.

Eventually I get to a point where the playlist represents a loose version of a plot point. From there, I start to tweak the playlist to match the plot line. Each song has a plot point, and if a song doesn’t fit any of those points, it gets booted from the playlist. Eventually I end up with a playlist in which every song represents a part of the plot. But there are a few exceptions here; either the first or second song in the playlist represents the entire story. (This one is only the second if I find a great introductory song that matches the prologue. It doesn’t happen often.) There is also the odd song which finds its way in as almost a ‘theme song’ for different characters. What I end up with is quite similar to a movie soundtrack – a bunch of seemingly unrelated songs which are all in the same movie. Although, I guess in this case it’s more like a book soundtrack. (As a side note, it would be kind of cool to have a book which played music at different scenes like a movie does. Is this a thing? Is this going to be a thing?)

So the interesting part comes once I’ve got something that relates to every plot point. Have you ever noticed that if you listen to an album, you’ll often find that there’s a good mix of differences in songs? Things like different tempos, instruments and ideas. Well, there’s a reason for that. If you’re going to listen to an entire album, then each song needs to be fresh. I’ve always felt the same if I’m going to listen to an entire playlist without hitting the shuffle button. So the next step is to order the songs in a way that makes sense to me musical. Which kind of has another advantage – it helps set out the plot points in a novel (to an extent.) We kind of want the same thing in a story – a mix of ups and downs, action and the relaxing bits. So it does, in a way, help mimic the action in a book and show me how it’s going to come together. (Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s a replacement for the editing process. But it does give me an idea.)

But most of all, I really enjoy creating the playlist, and then listening to it. It’s something I can go to whenever I run out of inspiration or drive. Because for some reason, listening to music that relates to what I’m doing is extremely helpful. Which is probably why I have so many playlists in the first place.

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