AW May Blog Chain – Writing and Music

This month’s AbsoluteWrite Blog Chain is about music and writing – the merging of the two. Some before me…

Stefanie Gaither
Hayley E. Lavik

…have written about the pieces of music that best evoke their characters and/or their novels. Others have written about what they listen to while writing.

I don’t have a “playlist” really because I don’t have an iPod or anything with a lower case “i” in front of it. Because I’m a crusty ancient luddite when it comes to technology. I’m perfectly okay with my cds. Most of the time, when I’m writing, I prefer silence but that’s hard to come by in most settings.

When I do listen to something when I’m writing, it’s instrumental music, mostly classical and jazz. I can’t write and listen to someone singing. It confuses my brain. It pays more attention to the songs than the task at hand. Especially if my secret husband, David Bowie, suddenly pops up and asks me to dance the blues.

That said, I often find myself in libraries (I work on a college campus), attempting to write, where there are a multitude of distractions (namely: college kids on their cell phones) and so I pop in a cd and jam an uncomfortable pair of ear buds (leant to me by my very kind nine-year-old daughter) and attempt to create some “white noise” or some general mood conducive to banging out 1,000 words during my lunch hour, if I’m lucky. These days that mood is either Charlie Parker (the “Bird” soundtrack) or Trio Rococo’s Norwegian Wood, a cd of instrumental versions of Beatles songs with oboe, harp and cello. Here they are performing Eleanor Rigby. I can’t escape the Beatles. I was dancing in my crib to them when they were in their heyday. I am that old.

When I was writing my first novel, I listened exclusively to jazz – Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Tommy Flanagan and Miles Davis, mainly. I was limited to what we already owned (which is a LOT of jazz) and I didn’t want a live version of anything because the audience noises, the clapping and hooting, were distracting.

While researching one of my character’s love for Frank Sinatra, I listened to a lot of Sinatra. Which…seriously, there IS a limit to how much Sinatra a person can listen to. I reached that limit.

In the last couple of years, I’ve been listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell. When invisioning this novel (finished and currently being hawked to agents) as a movie, I see it opening to her song “Urge for Going” with my mc walking through a hot summer morning in Virginia to her cleaning job. “Little Green” would play during the birth scene. Mitchell wrote that song about the daughter she gave up for adoption, which is what my mc is forced to do as a teenager. It’s also a really beautiful song.

In my current wip, though, as I’ve mentioned in a previous AW Blog Chain post, my mc was born in 1900 and grows up listening to a very different kind of music. I’ve spent a bit of time lately researching popular songs of the teens and twenties. Like “Peg ‘O My Heart” which was published in 1913. The link takes you to a Glenn Miller version. I’ve never researched music this old before so it’s been fun. Plus, listening to 100-year-old music makes me feel a tiny bit younger.

Up next:

Aimée Laine

18 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Katherine Gilraine on May 17, 2010 at 9:58 am

    THANK YOU. Coltrane is my secret love when it comes to horns.

  2. Really interesting post! I find that I have problem writing is the lyrics of the songs are in French (my first language) but am not distracted by English lyrics so much.
    Silence to write is my favorite too and since I live alone, I can find it.
    Very nice post! Searching for old music sounds like fun!

  3. Mmm, jazz… I’ll be listening to all of your links as soon as I get onto a computer that lets me! There’s a couple I haven’t heard of; I always like discovering new music :) Thanks!

  4. Cool! A nice exploration of your writing process, as well as some insight into your own relationship with music and creativity. Kudos!

  5. Hmm. I wonder if I can get still get in on this one. The last few chains have been so far removed from my area of expertise that I’d kind of bailed out. But this one has my name all over it.

  6. Posted by The Lass on May 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I rarely listen to music while writing although like you, I sometimes “hear” certain songs as pertaining to parts of whatever it is I’m working on.

  7. Posted by freshhell on May 17, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Yeah, listening to music while writing is mainly to block out distracting noises. Like the whole world of people I have to share public spaces with. Why can’t there be writer’s studios like artists get? That’s what I need.

  8. “Plus, listening to 100-year-old music makes me feel a tiny bit younger.”
    That’s priceless. :)

  9. Jazz!

    Dave Brubeck = best writing music EVER.

    When I was a student, I actually *liked* writing on campus with the background noise. It was inspiring to me, and I often stole snippets of actual conversations around me for the sake of my writing. :)

    Great blog!

  10. Posted by freshhell on May 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Semmie – I usually try to work in a “study room” but the walls are not soundproofed in the least. Sometimes students use them to talk on their phones and make plans for the evening. Once, I overheard a girl arguing with her mother. I couldn’t help but listen. It was funny (now that I’m on both sides of the fence) but I wanted her to just shut up and let me work.

  11. Dear Freshhell,
    Old music easily does it, doesn’t it and if the words start turning than so do you. Like you I find the words distracting, but wouldn’t mind a bit of Frank now and then.
    Excellent post!
    Always good to link the two.

  12. Now I’m in the mood for some jazz. Great post!

  13. Posted by Claire Gillian on May 18, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Someone from my own generation, yay! Aren’t those earbuds heinous? My ears weren’t designed to hold them in place properly; they always fall out.

    I wholeheartedly second any Joni Mitchell songs.

  14. Posted by freshhell on May 18, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Claire – yes! These have the loops that fit over your ears but they interfere with my glasses and I’m sure I’ve amused a number of random strangers who’ve watched me futz over them and then straighten everything out.

  15. I love jazz, but I don’t really know it. I mean, if I hear it, I enjoy it. But I don’t actively seek it unless I’m in a jazz club or something (and I hardly go out, so that doesn’t really happen.) Anyway, you have me wanting to listen to Joni Mitchell now!

  16. Hmmmm…Bowie…drool…ahhhhh…huh…oh sorry…uh… great post!

  17. Sinatra can be stressing if you listen to too much of it! I have a limit too. ;)

  18. Posted by Nina Hansen on June 5, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Interesting take on the topic. I’ve found period music is a marvelous way to get into the “feel” of a historical novel. While writing my WWII novels, I’ve done a lot of that!

    Nice post!

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