My first experience in the importance of the soundtrack of writing occurred in the mid-1990s.
I got a job as a copywriter for a man who was a fairly successful one man band in public relations. Our biggest point of contention – really our only point of contention – was music. It had nothing to do with genre as we liked quite a few of the same musicians.
We worked in one room together and I like to have music playing while I worked. Unfortunately, he needed total silence when he worked. Just as it was hard for him to focus with music (or any noise), it was nearly impossible for me to focus and get rolling in absolute silence.
I’ve always been intrigued with what I call the soundtrack of writing. What Stephen King or Brian Keene listens to while they right. Did Robert E. Howard listen to the radio while he wrote? Was any music humming around in the brain of Bram Stoker when he created Dracula?
Right now, as I write this, ZZ Top is playing on Spotify.
Soundtrack of writing in ELA
I teach 6th grade ELA and have two fundamental goals. I want the kids to read better and write better when they leave my class than when they started. Already, there is plenty of evidence of this, but it goes deeper.
I want them to analyze. Why did the author use THAT metaphor here? What is the purpose of that use of alliteration? Why did he or she pick this point of view? They need to understand why a story is constructed the way it is using the language that is used.
While we work, I play music in my classroom. I have a Spotify list called “light classical” and while there was much groaning in the beginning, if I don’t put it on, the students ask for it now.
From time to time, I’ll play something else. At Halloween, for example, I played a Disney Halloween playlist. But when asked I tell the students something simple.
While you are working with words, I don’t want you listening to singing (words). It seems to do the trick.
But why doesn’t it apply to me and my writing? I listen to words all the time while writing. In the form of songs.
I spent years hammering away at a keyboard and editing copy in newsrooms big and small. One thing is certain, silence usually means trouble.
Seriously though, I think I need noise and a smidgen of chaos in the background.
I can’t write when silence rules. I also have trouble writing when people are talking. The television is off and Youtube ceases to exist while I write. Of course, I forbade audio books from writing time long ago.
On the other hand, I mentioned Spotify is rocking ZZ Top right now. However, what was the last song played? No clue.
I tune it out.
What I listen to and how it affects me
My soundtrack of writing includes quite a few bands. Rush. ZZ Top. Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Insane Jane. Concrete Blonde. Plenty of others.
What I listen to has a lot to do with what I’m doing.
I’m currently in final edits for my forthcoming mystery novel, Bluesman. With that kind of necessary focus, I tend to listen to classical or jazz or some other instrumental focused music.
When writing, it is something else though.
Some of my recent short stories making the rounds hunting for a publisher, such as my horror story The Painting or my Sword & Sorcery story The Dwarf, match the anger and violence highlighted in these stories. Usually angry punk.
I do believe the intensity and the mood of my writing tends to shift depending on the music I’m listening to. When writing the first draft of The Bluesman, I listened to quite a bit of blues music (I’m a fan anyway). In particular, I listened to older blues music – Robert Johnson and his ilk.
I like to think this particular soundtrack of writing helped me capture the aesthetic and the mood of blues music and my story, set in the Mississippi Delta.
Like everything, we each have our own preferences when it comes to music and writing, so you know. Rock on.