Music and Words

Ever since taking a handbrake turn down the road marked ‘taking this writing thing seriously’, I’ve been engaged in a number of forums, Facebook groups, NaNoWriMo collectives and various other forums to try and glean some kind of ethereal ‘writing’ magic from their members. Wait, ew, not that kind of member. Get your mind out of the gutter.

One of the big discussion points that I see crop up, time and again on these various outlets, the one note of disharmony in an otherwise unified field (I jest, writers disagree on almost every point) is music. As in, how to fit it in with your writing life. So, in my desperate search for content with which to blog about, sorry, I mean, in the interests of discussion, I thought I’d throw my two-pennies-worth in, because this is an area I have feelings about. Strong, intractable feelings.

I’ve written before that my entire history of writing is inextricably linked with music. It was while listening to an obscure collection of b-sides by an obscure indie band that I first took out a biro and started writing ‘a story’, and ever since, music has been my faithful writing partner, feeding, cajoling and otherwise enabling me to get words from my tiny brain, onto paper. Quite simply, I cannot write without it.

My first novel, Blood on the Motorway (available soon, fact fans, why not sign up for my newsletter to find out more?) is named after a DJ Shadow song, and that very fact led the story in a completely different direction. Before the title it was a fairly horrific attempt to try and examine ‘youth’ culture in the United Kingdom, written at a time when I was just crossing over into the phase of adulthood that rendered me unable to accurately comment on it. Once I had the title, however, it started to morph, until it became the apocalyptic fiction that it now is.

The rest of the books in the trilogy are also named after songs, and each of the chapters in every book, too. I use song titles as a way of jumping off ideas from places that wouldn’t otherwise occur to me, and if I look at the slate of book ideas I have squirrelled away in a text file, I can see that most of them, too, have their genesis in some song or another.

When it comes to go beyond the song title, and get the words on the page, that too has to be soundtracked. Mostly, given the apocalyptic settings which I’ve been writing in, I’ve been listening to a lot of suitably apocalyptic post-metal stuff, anything dark, relentless, and with vocals I can’t easily understand so that I don’t just start concentrating on them instead. That mood is infused throughout my work now, and some of the darker moments in the books are rooted heavily in the music that was rattling around my eardrums while I was writing it.

I’ve also discovered that other types of music can help me overcome issues when I’m writing. Writers block? Listen to something bouncy and fun, which can cheer me up enough to trick me into getting words out. Editing hell? Something intricate, like Jazz, can sort me right out, and get my synapses firing again. Procrastination? Something calm, like ethereal sounding post-rock, or hipster beard folk music, can ease me back into what I should be doing. While I’m writing I use it like medication, albeit usually medication that has thunderous drums and someone sounding like they’re trying to set fire to the world with their vocal chords.

It’s gotten to the point where I have several playlists dedicated solely to writing music. The only thing that doesn’t get featured is hip-hop, because I find that almost completely impossible to concentrate to. I know the guys from the Self-Publishing Podcast have spoken before about writing to Eminem, but I don’t even know how that’s possible. Other writers use white noise, or just silence, but whenever I’m forced to endure that fate, it’s like trying to use a smartphone with gloves on.

I suppose, at the end of the day, that you find what works for you. I know a lot of people who can’t read with music on, and others that always do. So, writers, readers, what works for you? Sound off in the comments, or wherever you like really. Maybe not just while you’re wandering the streets, though, yeah?

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