Trying to Write? Turn up the Music!

It took awhile for me to figure out just how important music is for me to feel totally immersed in the world I am creating. Now I can’t imagine writing without tunes transporting me.

biblical dancingI started writing Judith and Holofernes before there was such a thing as Spotify which lets you hear almost anything anywhere.  When I sat down to write the only CD I had on hand was Rusted Root. So I put it on and tried to imagine I was in the ancient Middle East. That was six years ago.  Interestingly, to this day, when I am having trouble getting back into my fictional world I can put on that first track and instantly forget everything else: office politics, loud conversations at the café, or the pile of dishes in the sink.  (That pile of dishes that for some reason never affect my husband’s productivity.)

Music produces dopamine in the brain. (As do flirtation and text messages.) Many studies have linked music to happiness, and more recent research links music to productivity in the workplace. There are also studies that link music to stronger focus for studying.  I know it helps my tween daughter significantly in her effort to sit in her chair and study.  

For me, the Rusted Root track has become sort of a trick to tell my brain we are back in ancient Israel. But to write powerful scenes for a number of hours I often listen to movie soundtracks. There are a number of free lists on Spotify, or just think of a movie that looks like the scenes you are writing and download the track. For Judith and Holofernes I often listen to  Passion Sources from Peter Gabriel, his inspiration for the soundtrack of the Scorsese film the Last Temptation of Christ. African music also evokes the instrumentation that I need in my scenes. As long as there has been human civilization there has been music but since there are no recordings we have the pleasure of relying on our imaginations. In Judith and Holofernes I get to imagine the sultry twisting rhythms of harem dancers, and the celebratory marches of battle. The right music can completely transform the cadence of my thoughts, of my sentences, of my words.

The jazz pianist Oscar Peterson has also always been there me, allowing me to forget about the passage of time while I write. I don’t recommend that you listen to your favorite music. That might make you get up and dance around when the goal is (always) to sit in your chair and write.

What music do you turn on to evoke emotion in a scene?

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