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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Find Your Jam: The Connection Between Music and Writing



I strongly believe that music can help the writer in all of us.

I'll never understand the writer who says that music distracts them from writing. My love of writing came to me long after my love of music, and it's something that still sparks my creativity, alters my moods, and creates a state of mind that's the closest I've ever come to meditation. Every writer knows the feeling of being "in the zone," that mental space somewhere between wild emotional abandon and effortless thought flowing through you at the speed of light. The only other time I've ever felt that unfettered is while playing music. Somewhere along the way you just stop thinking, and you're in the moment, clicking and feeling the rhythm in some primal place of feel/be/know.

And as writers, what do we play with but emotion?

Music has sparked the initial ideas for most of what I write. My last novel project was sparked into life by the song "NYC" by Interpol. I've written short stories inspired by anything from Pink Floyd to Nine Inch Nails to Der Erlkönig (and even a craptastic poem ripped off from The Kink's "Lola"). But I insist that it's not the genre of music specifically that turns the wheels in our heads, though everyone has preferences. While I would find it difficult to write a particularly touching scene of young love while listening to Judas Priest, music is whatever it means to you, whatever it sparks deep in your head and chest no matter what genre. If death metal or screamo makes you nostalgic for youth when you're writing a coming-of-age tale, then write to that.

I find most people, even the most tone deaf, have some reaction to music. If listening to a particular song—no matter the lyric content—dredges up a particular feeling, mood, or intense emotion, then I say write to it, around it, about it, after it, while it's all up in yo' head. I have a playlist that's titled "Depressing Songs" and it's almost 4 hours long. I use it almost exclusively to write scenes of heartache, or scenes in which one character has made the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes the feeling lingers long after I've turned the iPod off, and well into my writing sessions, sometimes well after I've snapped the laptop shut.

Find your jam. Find it and use it. Dance to it awkwardly in your socks and undies while no one's watching. Turn up the bass. Blow the windows out. Then sit down and write.

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