Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Writing with Music

Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. Listen to it. Love it.
First off, Happy NaNoWriMo! I will not be writing a novel this month (other than my own little baby work-in-progress), but I've been diligently scouring the Interweb for tips and tricks to post this Friday for the blog wrap-up--check it out!

Ok. Like a lot of writers, I work from home and I work alone, which aside from making me go occasionally cocoa for cuckoo-poofs, also allows me to blast my iTunes DJ to my heart's content, without my husband saying, gently, "Baby? Can you turn that down?"

I'm sure every writer has a different preference, but for me, I love writing with background music. It's energizing, drowns out street noise, and, sometimes, can even be inspiring. When I have to get into a certain mood--romantic, angry, excited, sad--it helps to pump up the music and let the emotions go.

Music and writing have gone together for years, influencing and defining each other (arguably, painting forms the other side of that triangle). One of the best classes I ever took in college was about the Modernist movement, and how you can see musicians, writers, and painters interpreting all these modernist ideas into their works at the same time (Stravinksky's Rite of Spring with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness; Wagner's Tristan und Isolde with Nietsche's Birth of Tragedy).

Stephenie Meyer has been vocal in her appreciation for music as a way to shape her writing; in her acknowledgments, she thanks several musicians and bands: Muse, Animal Collective, Silversun Pickups, and the Dead Weather (who knew the author of Twilight had such highbrow musical tastes?). Yahoo's music blog has a funny post about the Top Ten Songs for Writers, and USAToday's Romance blog, Happily Ever After, polled Romance novelists about what they listen to while they write.

Music has a wonderful way of taking us to places, reminding us of where we were and who we were the first time we heard the songs. Every time I listen to The Anniversary's Your Majesty, I'm transported back to freshman year of college, walking in the cold and snow between the library and my dorm. And I still can't listen to Newsies' "Santa Fe" without feeling exactly like a 13-year-old, just wishing someone would understand me.

Recently I had to write a speech for one of my characters that I knew would be difficult. It represented a mental shift in the story, a turning point that had to both encapsulate the antagonist's perspective and lay out the ground rules for the rest of the novel. It needed to be a truly hateful speech: angry, violent, but still coming from a real emotional place. I listened to the most terrifying music I could find: the "Deathmetal Hardcore" station on Pandora and psyched myself up, focusing on the music to take my head to a place that was primal, furious, aggressive. It was weird. But it worked. And for the rest of the day after, I had to play songs exclusively from Glee to get my brain back into a warm and fuzzy mood.

My favorite go-to band for writing is Arcade Fire. They are just so so brilliantly evocative, all swingin' melodies and poetic lyrics. Their latest (and Grammy-winning!) album, The Suburbs, makes my heart break every time I listen to it. But aside from being beautiful, their music just sinks into me while I write, keeping me going without distracting me.

What about you? What are your favorite songs for writing? Or do you have to write in silence?

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