The Music I Write To

Ugh. That just feels wrong, doesn’t it? Ending a clause with a preposition? Well, the Elements of Style tells me to ‘write how I talk’. It’s also a title. So there you have it.

But that’s not what this is about. This is about the music I listen to when I’m writing. I don’t very often see it advertised how someone wrote some book or another. The behind-the-scenes, if you will. But I would love to know! Some books, you can just tell what the author was listening to. Like that part in ‘So Long and Thanks for All the Fish’, where Doug Adams is talking about how Mark Knopfler plays the guitar. You know he’s a big Straits fan, and was almost certainly listening to their music as he wrote that scene. Maybe the whole book. I love that. And if I knew what someone was listening to while he or she wrote a certain part, I would certainly want to listen to it myself, while I read said part.

I use music in a lot of my books, in a lot of ways. And typically, if I throw out the name of a song in a particular scene, you can be pretty sure that’s the song I was actually listening to when I wrote it. And it takes longer to write a scene than it does to read it. So sometimes, I have to restart the song several times to carry me through what takes just a couple of minutes in the story. My lovely wife has been witness to this, God bless her. Hearing the same song come from my writing dungeon four or five times in a row, very loudly, must surely be annoying to everyone else. But music just paints so much emotion into a scene!

There’s a scene in ‘Into the Darkness’ where Codi is dancing with Sam in the dim light of the living room, while Rebecca and a friend are on the couch doing their own sort of dancing. I think that the music I was hearing really helped make that scene intimate and realistic. It’s one of my favorite scenes. Every song I listed there was part of the creation of that scene.

So in that case, it was seventies pop/rock. In ‘A Flutter in the Window’ during the lab scenes where Shawn was dealing with the dead, and one dead person in particular, I needed it to be very emotional. She was really going through it. So I listened to Max Richter. His work with violins and pianos – though there are no vocals at all – is superior. Simply, if you need to cry, listen to some of that. ‘Mercy’ comes to mind. Dear God.

When I worked at the Geek Squad back in my younger days, we used to have to tolerate the recycled music of Best Buy Radio. I worked with a guy named Austin, and once when ‘Use Somebody’ came on, I commented on how that guy’s voice just rubbed me the wrong way. “You know that I could use somebodeh!” Ugh. Well, Austin, a lot younger than I, retorted with something like, “What the hell are you on about? He’s got the sexiest voice in music.”

Well, I didn’t start listening to Kings of Leon that day. But some years down the road, Austin’s comment returned. You see, I always listen to what people say very closely when we speak of music. I held that comment in some recess of my mind for five or six years. I had started ‘Into the Darkness’ back in 2013. I got about halfway through it, to about 70,000 words and then it just died on the vine. I lost the muse and walked away from writing all together for a long time.

Well, some ten months later, I came back to it, thinking I would get back in the groove. But I only wrote about 4000 words over a couple of days, and then was out again. We moved around this time. Got a new house in a new city, and everything was up in the air for a long time. But I now had a new office. It was wonderful, and did a lot to inspire me. So a year later, I picked it back up again. I had about 75,000 words down, and I reckoned that was about half of the book. I started writing.

But before I did, I looked for some music to accompany me. See, back when Austin had said those words about Kings of Leon, I had trusted him enough to think I might someday give them a chance. Just not enough to listen at the time. So, I had downloaded all of their albums in mp3. I had them in my library, just sitting there, never getting on the rotation. Well, I thought, now is the time. I want to give these guys a chance.

So I built a playlist in Audacity made up of their first five albums – arguably their best five – and set it to shuffle. Two things happened: one, I quickly realized what Austin had said was absolutely true. Caleb Followill does have one of the sexiest voices in music. And two, I became a huge fan, almost instantly. I couldn’t get enough of their music.

Well, a third thing happened as well. Over the next month, I put down 80,000 words in ‘Into the Darkness’, listening to nothing but Kings of Leon on shuffle. That was the bigger half of what remained to be discovered of the book. My fingers were like little tap dancers, just blasting through words. The day I finished that book, I put down over 14,700 words. That’s a huge day of writing. And I cannot say that the music had nothing to do with it. Boy, it did.

My second novel, ‘Resurrecting Mars’ was written back before we had streaming services. Sure, I had mp3s in a limited capacity. But in this case, my office was more of a music studio, and I felt too distracted when I tried to write in there. So I set myself up a little temporary office under the stairs. Cramped and barren of any distractions, I wrote that book in just a couple of months. I had no internet down there, but I didn’t need it. I had a little jam box and some CDs. Well, the only CD I ever spun while writing that book was ‘Euphoria Mourning’ by Chris Cornell. I absolutely cherish that album still today. One of my top five of all time, it is. And I still have fond memories of writing an entire book listening to nothing but that on repeat. Though the story has nothing to do with the music.

All of these styles of music are so disparate. But they’re all so important to me. I am a lover of music almost over everything else in my life. My grandfather was the band director at a university for many years. He also wrote songs that you’ll find in your church hymnal. My father sold music. He has gold and platinum records on his wall for his part in selling it. And while it’s true that I do make music myself, I am much more of a consumer. It’s always on. And records are the best way to consume music, if you ask me. It takes an effort to get out a record and listen to it. You have to stand up and flip it after 22 minutes. You’re there for the engagement. It sort of forces you to listen to the whole thing. I love it.

Whatever music brings you to tears when you need them, brings you joy when you seek it, makes you break out in chills, gets you pumped up for your morning workout or even just gets you singing on a road trip… Use it. If you want to write with passion and conviction, use that music to inspire. I think you’ll find that it helps your characters relax a little and be themselves. Because the best way for them to relax – maybe the only way – is if their creator is relaxed and enjoying himself. Music will help you get there.

Posted on February 12th, 2024 · 1,368 words
Categories: writing
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