Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Novel playlists!

I’ve always liked playing music while I’m writing a novel. The right song can focus the mind, get me into the trancelike state where good writing happens, and can encapsulate the mood and tone of the novel. That said, I can write only to certain songs that are specific to that novel. Anything else is distracting.

I have a few all-purpose songs that can help me get in a writing state. “Black” by Pearl Jam was a song I used while writing a short story in 1994 that I’m able to use for general all-purpose writing. I actually had a novel show up when “Frozen” by Madonna came out, and I ended up using the slow tracks off her Ray of Light album for that novel. Thorn’s story, on the other hand, gets “River of Tears” by Eric Clapton and “Still Got the Blues” by Gary Moore. The end of Butterfly Chaos gets “Hard Way Out” by Jeff Black. In its previous draft, before I completely rewrote it, I used “Time Stand Still” by Rush, and a song that I associate with a boy I knew long ago, “Close to You” by the Carpenters.

The interesting thing is, I don't allow myself to listen to those songs if I’m not writing. If one of those songs pops up on my i-Pod, or on the radio, I have to move on to the next song, or change the station. To listen to the music outside of my writing time dilutes the effectiveness of the song. I want to associate the music to the world and mood of the novel and nothing else.

I have to put the songs in a separate playlist on my i-Pod so I don’t get jarred out of the novel when the tracks change and I’m suddenly listening to marsh duck calls -- which makes for a hell of a segue.

Character (dramatically): I can’t keep this to myself any longer. I’ve kept this secret for so many years. But I want to say that –

from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Anas platyrhynchos: Literary Critic.

I’ve tried to listen to classical music while writing, but the mood of the compositions often changes during the course of a single movement, because composers love to make everything really quiet, and then suddenly, kettledrum explosions! The exception to this is Shostakovich’s String Quartet #8, which I’ll play sometimes for final showdown scenes when it’s the end of the world, because Shostakovich generally scares the crap out of me. 

What about you? Do you use playlists in your novel? Or is silence the best policy?


  1. DEAD silence only. Otherwise, I cannot hear the "voice" and my concentration shuts down completely. A specialist once told me that this is a form of dyslexia (auditory). So, the only way I can work is in silence. I've even kicked my dog out of the study for snoring... I envy folks who can work in coffee shops or listen to music while writing, as you do, Melinda. :)

  2. p.s. I do not mean to imply that if you must work in silence that you also have auditory dyslexia. Obviously, I experience other symptoms, but the disrupted concentration in any kind of noise sealed the diagnosis. :)

    1. I can't do the snoring dog or the coffeeshop either! Just music ... and very specific music at that. Actually, I've had a few stories that I simply can't find a song to go with, and those stories I write in silence!

  3. Silence for me. I literally wear shotgun earmuffs.