Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Music and Writing


Last night Maureen McHugh, here in Seattle to teach week 2 of Clarion, had a reading at the University Bookstore. She read a new, as yet unpublished story of singular bleakness (David Levine, who had seen it at a workshop, referred to it as a "despair machine.") The story, set in a post-apocalyptic United States, features an unsympathetic protagonist named Jane. Maureen said that while she was writing it, she listened over and over again to Jane's Addiction: "It got me in the right mood."

The relationship of writing to music is a highly individual one. Only once have I played a song obsessively to affect my writing a specific scene, and that was fairly recently. In the YA fantasy I am (interminably) writing, there is a scene in which savage soldiers march into a castle, wave upon wave of them in battle formation. I had first imagined this as occurring to "Mo Ghile Mear" as sung by The Chieftains, with solo by Sting, and I played the CD over and over as I wrote that scene.

Ordinarily, however, music just distracts me when I'm writing. Yet I know writers who cannot work without rock blaring away. Some of these same people say they can be jarred out of the writing mood by so much as a phone ringing. The authorial mind is a strange and fearsome thing.

Here is Maureen, reading her story, hearing who-knows-what music in her head as background to a tale of desperate and opportunistic survival:

9 comments:

TheOFloinn said...

I've only gone musical twice. When writing In the Country of the Blind, I obsessively played ragtime because the main character loved ragtime and dixieland. At one point she and some of the other characters got together and played a bit of rag and dixie.

The other time was writing Eifelheim. I played the Benedictine Monks singing medieval Gregorian chants.

Oddly, most other times, I cannot listed to music and write. I think it's because I always start actually, you know, like, listening.

earthling said...

I would always like to be able to write to music, but I find that when I do, I just end up writing the lyrics into dialogue. Very frustrating!

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EFKelley said...

I find that a little industrial/dance/techno does wonders for pulling me into the writing mode. It drowns out the hundreds of other thoughts swirling around in my ADD-riddled brain.

On occasion, I do resort to Method writing, but for that I usually watch a movie scene that evokes the mood I want.

Oz said...

I usually do use music. Greg Frost made me a cd for the first third of my novel about Anna after I sent him one about it. His is much better. He also made me a cd of ambient "noise" for working on my Gen Ship stories. And then I put together a playlist for Gen Ship more recently out of different weird pieces that reminded me of space. I have playlists I use for different stories and sometimes I don't use one at all. But yes, for me writing and music are usually combined.

Nice photo of Maureen reading. I haven't seen her since I went to Clarion.

Oz

DerbyDave said...

I use a lot of movie and TV soundtracks -- Jerry Goldsmith (STAR TREK, etc.), Thomas Newman, (ANGELS IN AMERICA, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION), Greg Edmonson (FIREFLY, the UNCHARTED video games), many others.

I even have soundtracks from movies I've never seen, if I like the composer. And a lot of video games are employing film composers to create full scores. I have several of game soundtracks, and I don't even play video games.

Film music, when done well, is inherently dramatic, which helps. Classical goes too quickly from loud to quiet and back, which is distracting, as is are the lyrics and backbeat in rock.

And sometimes I just like the quiet.

Dave Creek

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