Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Mood Music

Not that kind of mood—get your minds out of the gutter. Unless you’re writing erotica, in which case, back into the gutter with you. I’m talking about creative mood, literary mood, Muse-won’t-shut-up mood. What’s the soundtrack to yours?

Yesterday I had a horrendously long meeting that had me begging for death by the time it ended sometime after noon. I had planned to go to a cozy coffee shop and spend some time writing that afternoon, but my head was completely full of special elections and poll numbers and distinctly empty of anything I could use to work on my novel. So I went for my iPod and scrolled through to find some good music to get me into a creative mood.

This is something I do a lot—there’s nothing like music and coffee to get me kick-started into writing mood. I have several playlists on my iPod devoted to “writing music”—songs that get me thinking or ones that evoke certain emotions for me. When I was writing my first novel, I discovered that I wrote best with music playing softly in the background to drown out all the other noise. I also discovered that songs with strong lyrics really get me into a creative mood. It took me a while to get the “soundtrack” right, but when it finally clicked, I had over an hour of music that really fit with the story and put me into the mood I needed to be in to write it. That playlist tended heavily toward the Sundays, the Jayhawks, Beth Hart and Aimee Mann. For a while, I associated the Sundays’ version of “Wild Horses” so strongly with the more emotional moments of my book that I could no longer play that song in the car.

My second novel is not so emotionally heavy, and includes more action and suspense. My writing music reflected that. Instead of chicks who sing like they’re on the verge of tears, there were more guitar-heavy songs like “Momentary Thing” by Something Happens. The Dropkick Murphys, Supreme Beings of Leisure and the Dead Kennedys (because my heroine loves them) rounded out the action-y parts of the list, and some of my old favorites like “A Pair of Brown Eyes” (the Pogues), “La Cienega Just Smiled” (Ryan Adams) and “Righteously” (Lucinda Williams) are the more romantic soundtrack for the novel.

Over the next couple of weeks as I get geared up to really begin my current project, I’ll go through my music collection and look for things that evoke the same imagery that I’m trying to write and will probably haunt some music stores (and iTunes, of course) until I find the perfect mix. One of my most recent finds, which I expect will make up at least some of that mix, is James Blunt’s album Back to Bedlam. You might know the single “You’re Beautiful,” which is currently being played to death on major radio markets. Since I don’t listen to the radio that much, I’m not too bothered. The melodies on this album are unobtrusive and the lyrics are honest and interesting. One of the tracks, “Goodbye My Lover,” is a fantastic take on a break-up song and I can see that figuring heavily into my current project.

To me, music is an intrinsic part of writing. Without it, I have trouble capturing mood and breaking through bouts of writer’s block. So the time I spend making playlists and soundtracks is time well spent. I know some of you do the same thing—I even have some of your soundtracks, come to think of it. But how do you find the right music? Is it mostly from your existing CD collections, or do you search out new stuff? And how do you know when it’s right?


Blogger Jana J. Hanson said...

I love "Righteously" by Lucinda Williams. I could kick myself because I missed her area concert last summer.

8:11 PM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

The soundtrack I made for my first novel (the one I'm about to start shopping around) came mostly from my existing collection, though I did buy two new CDs just to add to it. However, we're on a tight budget, so I try to be careful.

You can read about the soundtrack here. I wish there were a way to add a CD to a book for sale! Wouldn't that be a great marketing tool?

In general, music is really critical to my writing. I will listen to jazz, electronica, or evocative music like Tom Waits or Bruce Springsteen depending on mood and what I happen to be working on. Helps me focus much more than silence can.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Melanie Hayden said...

You know, there was a book I read several years ago called Getting Over Jack Wagner that sort of included a soundtrack. Each chapter had a list of 3-4 songs beneath the chapter header. It fit well because the heroine's "thing" was that she only dated musicians.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me, music is an intrinsic part of writing. Without it, I have trouble capturing mood and breaking through bouts of writer’s block.

Wow. I do the same thing, especially when visualizing/feeling/planning a scene. Once I've got a scene firmly in my head, I try not to listen to music because I tend to zone out instead of write efficiently.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Tas Jordan said...

Topical much for me? LOL! I do create soundtracks for my writing, both in the specific-project sense and in the general-mood sense. Music is inextricably linked to my muse for sure.

(And I was supposed to borrow Getting Over Jack Wagner from you, lol. Should still do that.)

7:35 PM  

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