Music as Muse

I don’t like to write in silence. The blank white space of the page and the impatient flicker of the cursor make a daunting combination, exaggerating the absence of words and making it hard to think of the right ones to fill that expanse. Each second of non-typing quiet is like a reminder of the temporary failure to articulate ideas and images.

For me, having a song playing in the background eases the task, filling up the silence and making me feel less alone, so the pages slowly become inviting, filled with mystery, as if anything might be written down there.

Of course, once the story starts to flow and the characters take over the page with their actions and words, the music fades into the background. I hardly hear the music once I’m into a rhythm, and that’s probably a good thing. While writing, I want my attention to be on the sentences forming in my mind, not the sounds around me.

Some writers prefer the silence. Once in a while, I like it too, if I am seized with such great inspiration that getting started on the page doesn’t feel like any trouble. I also tend to like the quiet better for editing.

I’ve heard that some writers can’t listen to their favourite music while working, because it’s distracting and draws them into listening to it closely instead. Others prefer music without lyrics, fearing that ‘voice-creep’ could affect their writing.  I used to worry about this too, but I haven’t ever found evidence of it from music in my writing, and since I regularly write through a whole album without paying much attention, it seems to be okay. I have a fairly loyal music list, so I’ve listened to the same bands on multiple projects that turned out very differently, and that’s added reassurance.

Maybe even Greek poets and playwrights like Homer and Euripides found music inspiring

Maybe even Greek poets and playwrights like Homer and Euripides found music inspiring

I like the emotional affect that background music can have on writing. In my last manuscript, which I am currently editing, I found one scene particularly tough to write, since I had to kill off one of my main characters, in an execution by hanging, no less. Even though he was a pirate and always knew he might face the justice of his time, I had grown pretty fond of him through the storytelling and was not anxious to write the end of him. Just as I began the scene, “Navigate” by Band of Skulls came on, and it seemed to suit my mood and requirement perfectly. I put the song on repeat until I was done the death scene, and I think it worked well. I got the scene written faster than I expected, anyway, and I managed to not be too sad until my third read-through. I still like the song, but now every time I hear it I feel simultaneously calm and filled with a vague sense of dread.

Anyone else like to listen to music while writing? Do you make special playlists for different characters or books? Or do you prefer peace and quiet to concentrate?

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