The Magic of Music . . . and Writing

Many authors write to music. Some of them even tweet what they’re listening to while they’re writing.

The reason for this is simple: it creates an atmosphere that puts you in the right mood to create. In fact, I’ve often used background music as a means to overcome writer’s block. Sometimes, I’m just not in the mood to write, or I know what I want to do but just can’t seem to get started, or the weather’s crappy, or whatever.

But if I put on some music, the barriers melt away. I lose myself in the story, carried along on the notes of the soundtrack emitting from my speakers or headphones.

What I listen to depends on what I’m writing. When I’m working on a horror piece, I like to put in Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtracks. The dissonant tones of his eerie jazz evoke an atmoshpere of the strange. My mind returns to the small town in Washington where everything was wrong somehow. That makes it easy to conjure dark scenes for my readers.

When I’m writing fantasy or just something epic, I like Randy Edelman’s Dragonheart soundtrack. It has all the sweeping tones and majestic melodies to take me to far off places where incredible things happen. John Williams’s Superman: The Movie soundtrack is also good for this, and, if I want something with a slightly more contemporary feel, I’ll go for Andrew Powell’s soundtrack for Ladyhawke.

(I should note here that I can’t listen to music with lyrics when I’m writing. I’m a singer too, and I’ll pay too much attention to the words and start singing along, losing all focus on what I’m supposed to be doing. It has to be instrumental music for me.)

But, when it comes to writing the Wolf Dasher material, James Bond music is the only thing that will do. In particular the John Barry and David Arnold sountracks are the best (personal faves are On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Living Daylights, and The World is not Enough). The jazzy swing, the pulse-pounding action music, the quieter numbers for sneaking around — it all creates the perfect atmosphere for me to think about Wolf and what he’s up to.

This is where iTunes is one of the greatest advances of the last 20 years. I own every Bond soundtrack on CD. I’ve imported them all to iTunes and created a Bond playlist. All I have to do now is hit “shuffle” and “play,” and I’ve got hours of uninterrupted atmospheric music to write by. I’ve yet to make it through the whole playlist, and it doesn’t get boring, because the styles and pieces are mixed together randomly. If something isn’t working, I can skip it. Otherwise, it’s writing in a shaken-not-stirred atmosphere.

And, boy, does it work. Yesterday I was writing the final scene of a Wolf Dasher short story I intend to give away free as a loss leader for State of Grace. Naturally, this was the exciting fight between Wolf and his nemesis, which involved a battle in a locked office followed by a chase through the skies of Mensch, with Wolf’s antagonist trying to crash his magical vehicle.

By good fortune, I got a string of action pieces all in a row from iTunes. And, as the scene was building to a climax, iTunes spit out one of my very favorite pieces, “Show Me the Money/Come in, 007, Your Time is Up” from The World is not Enough. As the music blared out of my headphones and built tension, my heart was pounding and I couldn’t type fast enough. I’m sure I could have won a Scripps-Howard typing contest while I was listening to the piece.

The scene and the song finished at the same. Man, it was great.

So, yeah, I’ll be continuing to write to music. It fuels my creativity and makes me want to write.

What kind of music do you like to write to? Leave a comment and let me know.

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