If you’re at all familiar with me, you know music plays a major part in my life. Besides working in the music industry for the past twenty years, I’m also just a huge music fan. As such, it should come as no surprise that music is a major influence on my writing.

Readers of my first novel, ‘The Trouble With Being God: A Philosophical Thriller,’ may recall that throughout that book I had footnotes marking specific songs to play at certain parts of the book. They were there as the book’s soundtrack, as well as a way to set the mood for the particular scenes. Some people loved this concept, and I think it is partly due to the fact that music can make such an immediate emotional connection – above and beyond what words or pictures alone can do.

As I’ve continued my writing, music has remained a constant part of my creative process. Everything I write is done with some specific music as my muse. Now, this doesn’t mean I always write while listening to music, or even have a specific song in mind the first time I’m writing, but overall every book or story I write has a soundtrack to it.

The process goes something like this. As I work out the structure of the novel, I look for songs that get across the specific feeling I’m trying to portray. Sometimes they’re lyrically connected as well, and from time to time the lyrics themselves will inspire the writing. As I’m working through the book I put together a playlist, and tie songs to specific story arcs and events within my book, which I think really helps out with setting pacing for a book. In the end what I’m trying to do is turn my writing into a sort of opera, with a musical score behind it that mirrors the ebb and flow of the story.

As you can see, this doesn’t mean I necessarily write with music on in the background, but I do tend to do that more often than not. The music that I’m listening to, however, isn’t always the music for the soundtrack, but sometimes it’s just something that can help me focus and block out outside noise. The music I find myself coming back to quite often as my background “get into writing mode” music usually has somewhat minimal lyrics, and focuses much more on sound. Artists like Beach House and Sigur Ros are quite popular for me lately in this usage. (In particular, the Beach House ‘Depression Cherry‘ album was pretty much on repeat while I did the actual writing for ‘A Confession.’)

So, while music does play a key part in my process, it serves different purposes for me. In structuring story and pacing, I find music to be extraordinarily helpful. Oftentimes I’ll find myself with a certain song and think “I need the writing to feel like this.” For example, the song ‘Diminished’ by R.E.M. was hugely influential in the actual feeling for A Confession. I didn’t write to it much, but I did listen to it before specific scenes to help get my mind in the right place for what I was attempting to accomplish.

As ‘A Confession’ gets closer to publication I’ll be sure to share more about the song selections behind the “playlist” for the book. But beyond just being a playlist, the songs each do tie in to specific sections of the book. I’ve yet to decide if I’ll include this in the final printed book like I did in ‘The Trouble with Being God,’ but I thought you all might find it interesting nonetheless.

If you’re a writer, do you use music to aid in your creative process? Do you need to work in silence? Tell me. I’m extraordinarily curious.

Writing to a Soundtrack
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2 thoughts on “Writing to a Soundtrack

  • March 3, 2016 at 6:00 am

    Yeah…I love that you can write to music. It makes me horribly distracted and I have this annoying habit of bursting into song at any given point so having it playing keeps me from writing and pushes me to sing 😉 BUT, I do agree that music can speak to the feeling and pacing of a story. I put together a book playlist for The Church In The Wildwood and I listen to it when I need to get into the mood for the story. It’s a fun way to show people how your book feels without giving too much away. I like to think it adds to the mystery. Plus, I have this romantic notion of it being the background music at my eventual book release party…

  • March 3, 2016 at 6:51 am

    Alanna – I like your romantic notion. But you gotta shoot higher! My romantic notion is that it’s the soundtrack to the Academy Award-Winning movie version of my book.

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