I’ve said it a million times before and I’ll say it again. I love to read. Always have, always will. I don’t make excuses for it when it interferes with daily life, because if it wasn’t for books, life just wouldn’t be the same. The same goes for music. I’ve played instruments and sung in bands and my earliest memory is of my dad up late at night playing his guitar and me sitting on the stairs long past bed time, just to listen to him and whisper along.
I am a highly sensory oriented person. I connect with music and words on a deeply personal level, much to my chagrin when I find myself overly emotional on hearing a particular piece of music, or re-visiting a story that moved me as a teenager. It’s like I am always able to find a piece of myself within the layers of a book or the melody of a song. It’s a magical feeling when something you read or hear instantly connects — it’s like déjà vu or a secret that only you know about. Something is calling to you* — and only you. It’s fabulous, isn’t it?
*Now before you have me bundled off in a straight-jacket, let me explain where I’m going with this.
I’m taking a gamble every time I sit in front of my laptop or with my notebook and Lamy in hand. What comes out is as naked and raw as a newborn. It’s squirming and squalling and covered in all sorts of goo. But while this word baby is all mine, it was born from a multitude of influences. The books I read, the conversations I have with unsuspecting friends, the movies I’ve watched, the memories I hold dear, the idea’s I dream up. However I find the biggest influence on my writing, is the music I listen and write to.
An example; in the midst of my NaNoWriMo last November, I stalled in one of the ten interconnected short stories I was writing. It wouldn’t speak to me and, rather rudely, threw a brick wall up in my face. I spent a few days moping about, one of which included watching the new adaptation of Jane Eyre. I was so taken by the score (by Dario Marianelli) that I immediately jumped on iTunes. The next day when I sat down to that story, I was armed with my headphones and Dario. It worked. It helped to invoke the particular mood I was after and, importantly, helped me to maintain it throughout. By writing the story to the ebb and flow of the soundtrack, it strengthened the structure by infusing it with the appropriate emotion at the appropriate times. I was able to scoot out five thousand decent words that day — I’ve never been so in the zone as I was then and I admit to getting goosebumps thinking about it.
Lyrics, while great for story prompts and injecting life into stagnant dialogue, only serve to distract me. I reach for orchestral, old choral (Bach is a favourite) and film scores — pieces that transport me to another time, heightening emotions, fleshing out the conflicts of my characters and adding depth to their surroundings. Well at least, that’s the intention!
I always try to find music that reflects my story. Whether that be the era, location or scene, or a theme or emotion; I pick something that will help guide me through the story. I think of it like shining a torch on the intangible. I know the scene, how the characters are going to behave and react, what they’re thinking inside, but how do I best show this? Using a certain piece of music or song, can shine light on areas I may not have noticed before. If a scene I thought held an underlying sense of sorrow or hurt isn’t working, I find myself trying a new piece. Something to shine a different light and maybe bring out an aspect I hadn’t considered before. For me, there really isn’t a more satisfying way to write.
So tell me, what works for you? Do you listen to music while writing or is the sound of silence, the only workable solution? Are there songs or scores that you immerse yourself in, that put flesh on the bones of your detail, teasing out the primal core of your story? Sing me your song!