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Music to Write By (By Which to Write?)

I'm asked a lot about my writing routine, about how I get myself to sit down everyday and work, about how much I try to write in a day, about how I overcome the intial inertia of sitting before a blank computer screen, even about the program I use and the type of screen I like.  But more often than not, the people asking these questions ignore what is for me a crucial element of my writing day:  What music do I listen to while I work?

This may sound like a trivial matter.  I assure you, it's not.  Often in movies or television shows, writers are shown in their studies, typing away to strains of Mozart or Bach or Beethoven.  I have a very good friend who works at the university near where I live.  He's a music historian and early on in our friendship he encouraged me to add some lesser known classical compositions to my collection of work music.  He thought I'd like them and, more to the point, he thought they would be conducive to the creative process.  I'm sure that many writers would have embraced his suggestions as welcome additions to their work music rotation.  The truth is I like all the pieces he recommended.  I just can't listen to them when I'm working.

No doubt a writer's musical choices are part of a larger set of issues that relate to his or her creative process and work habits.  As I prepare to write a story or novel, I tend to outline broadly, but leave the details for when I'm actually writing.  I do a lot of my creative work on the fly, as it were.  And that, I think, is why I find it hard to listen to classical when I work.  I find the music is too structured, too planned.  It lacks the spontaneity I need from my work music.  I also find that, working in words, I generally don't do well with music that has lyrics, though I've gotten better about that as I've progressed through my career.  Rock doesn't work really well for me either, though I'm not sure why that is.  Again, I think it has something to do with the fact that most rock songs are too structured.  I love rock, but not as writing music.

So what do I listen to when I write?  Jazz and bluegrass.   What do they have in common -- where is the intersection between Miles and 'Trane on the one hand and Bela and Flux on the other?  Both forms have vast bodies of instrumental music -- important if I'm avoiding lyrics.  But even more importantly, both forms are strongly improvisational -- much of the music just happens in the moment.  And as a result I find that the music feeds my creative energy.  This is going to sound strange, but on days when the writing is flowing well, I actually sense that I'm playing riffs right along with the musicians on my stereo.  I'm a musician myself -- I'm not very good anymore, but I was for a time there, and I did a fair amount of instrumental soloing.  I swear it's the same feeling.  My riffs now are in prose rather than in notes, but other than that it's very much the same.

Jazz and bluegrass.  Yup.  Who do I listen to?  Well, that's a topic for another day.  Here's one hint, though....

Today's music:  Tony Rice (58957:  The Bluegrass Guitar Collection)

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
sleigh
Nov. 15th, 2007 02:27 am (UTC)
Hey, welcome to LJ!!!

And speaking of Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten is just too damn talented, in my opinion...
davidbcoe
Nov. 15th, 2007 04:34 pm (UTC)
Future Man! Yes, Wooten is pretty amazing. I prefer Fleck's newgrass to the stuff he does with the Flecktones, but I can't help but respect the musicianship on those albums.
stevenagy
Nov. 15th, 2007 04:14 am (UTC)
Hey, David. sleigh sent us over here. :-)

I see friends post about soundtracks, but I've only had one book riff off one. Different stories seem to require a different genesis for me.

Colors are good. :-)

First novel I ever wrote, I'd work on it a bit at work, then later at home. Had to transfer files back and forth on a green floppy disk (which actually was one of those 3.5 inchers). Second one I tried to write (and didn't finish) traveled on a blue floppy. A red floppy came out for novel three (also unfinished). The novel I just finished was a soundtrack book. It's a blue novel, even though there isn't a floppy (I'm finally using a laptop).
davidbcoe
Nov. 15th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks for coming over to check out my blog, Steve!

Back when I was still using 3.5s to back up my books, I used colors, too. I could be pretty picky about it. Some might even call it compulsive....

I'm not sure I can identify particular music with a particular book, but I certainly find that what works for some scenes doesn't work for others. And when I work on contemporary stuff -- as opposed to Medieval epic -- I seem to prefer a funkier sound; something with a backbeat.
(Deleted comment)
davidbcoe
Nov. 15th, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)
Hi Alis!! Thanks for the welcome.
lrcutter
Nov. 18th, 2007 06:14 am (UTC)
Hey you! Welcome to LJ!

I also can't listen to lyrics when I'm writing, and classical has never done it for me. I do listen to a lot of jazz when I write -- Bela being one of my faves. I also find myself listening to soundtracks, as they have a lot of emotional "sweep" for me -- like The Incredibles, or the Conan movies, or even American Beauty. It really depends on the scene I'm writing though -- I'll often try to pick music that's appropriate for what I'm writing.
davidbcoe
Nov. 18th, 2007 04:35 pm (UTC)
Hi Leah! Thanks for the welcome!

I've had a couple of people tell me that they write to soundtracks -- not something I've really considered, but I'll have to give it a try. The Incredibles, eh? That's a lot of pressure, don't you think...?
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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