First of two blogs on ‘music while you’re writing’ this. I was inspired, if that’s not too high-falutin a word, to write about this one by a conversation I had on twitter with fellow writers about what music to listen to when they write.
What do you listen to? I asked ’em. One replied, tongue in cheek: “the music of my soul” another said her writing is powered by heavy guitary girl rock such as the Breeders – which fuel her feisty female characters. People suggested Nick Drake, The Stones, Mozart.
Others said – no, just quiet – it’s all or nothing, writing. Many writers I suspect, feel like this. They don’t listen to music as it can be a distraction – you get into a kind of zone when you write where time passes differently. It’s an important place that zone – you don’t always find it and if music helps you get there you will use it, if it doesn’t, you won’t.
With me it depends what side I got out of bed. Sometimes I appreciate silence – other times sounds. If I do listen to music it has to be something where there are no lyrics, or where the singing is buried in the background. Otherwise I find the words of the song tear my attention away from the words I’m tapping onto the electronic page or scribbling into my notebook. So music with interesting and involving lyrics is a particularly bad idea. No Nick Drake for me then – or Leonard Cohen, Dylan, Elvis Costello – no to any singer songwriters really.
Something purely instrumental like classical music or jazz is favourite – but there are bands too where the lyrics don’t really intrude. Songs sung in a language you don’t understand, for example – and for me that’s any language other than English. Sigur Rós then, erm (tries to think of other examples).
Plus, some bands have a language of their own – the Cocteau Twins for example, remember them? everybody loved ‘em, no-one knew what on earth they were on about. They provide great writing music. Early REM – same kind of a deal.
I’m sure there’s lots more examples.
Dance music also does the trick – but that raises another issue. Sometimes the mood of the music is important too. It’s emotion lotion music isn’t it? The sound of it changes the way you feel as surely as a cocktail of chemicals.
So if your aim is to be a modern-day Kafka there’s no point listening to something that’s going to have you dancing round the desk.
It’s hard work finding the right music to suit the mood – I’m surprised I find time to do any actual writing.