One of the things I’m trying to help slip into the voices of my characters is music. I know a lot of writers listen to music to help them get in the mood. Some authors even post play lists for their books on their sites. So you can see what songs Laurie Halse Anderson listened to, for example, to get in the zone for writing Speak.
Being a thirty-something mom, I am way out of the loop when it comes to current music. I may have bought my last CD in college. How would I know what music speaks to the 2011 teenagers I’m trying to write about?
So I started checking out author play lists of books like mine and tooling around on You Tube where I could listen to songs and get new suggestions. A lot of songs came back to me, and I realized not all the songs on my play list had to be songs teenagers are listening to now. It’s not like my play list was going to appear in the book. These songs just had to get me into the mood of my story.
So in about a week I had a play list of about eight songs, old and new, that captured the tone of my story and spoke to my characters' inner struggles in an almost uncanny way. I downloaded the songs onto my ipod, I plugged in for a writing session, and I LOVED it.
The immediate benefit –listening to music while I write drowns out the negative voices in my head. Voices that say things like, "Are you kidding? That is so not how teenagers act," are now blasted away by Muse, Linkin Park, and The Decemberists.
I am also able to write more and to write faster. (There is a similar effect on the treadmill by the way.) Where I usually slow down or get stuck editing, the music sets a pace. And the pace keeps me in touch with my subconscious. Just writing, not editing, just capturing first thoughts.
Maybe most profoundly, I am encouraged by the music. All these great bands are singing about themes I’m trying to weave into my novel. What I'm trying to get at, or what one of my characters may be trying to say can't be that out there if Green Day and Paramore are writing about it too. I feel bolstered to stand up and say what I intuit, what those negative voices in my head might dub as too weird to say out loud.
The music frees me up to just play during a first draft. I have songs that get me in the mood for certain scenes, songs that sound like particular characters talking, songs I can imagine in the soundtrack when my book is optioned for a major motion picture. The more I listen to my play list (like when I run) the more nuances I find in the lyrics. Songs I thought were about my protagonist also tell me something about his enemies.
Now I am always asking people what they’re listening to, and I have a whole section of my notebook full of new bands and songs to check out. What you are listening to when you write or how you have used music to inspire your writing?