Whenever I sit down to write, I queue up a few albums in my media player or find a playlist online to stream. I select whatever music suits my mood, my writing, the weather outside. I set the volume to medium low and enter another world inhabited only by my writing and the music and a swirl of thoughts tangled up in both.
The music accompanying my writing is more to me than white noise or entertainment. It is as much a part of the writing process as are staring out the window thinking or drawing up character sketches. Like those two processes, music helps me clear my thoughts and focus. Listening to the right songs leads to discovery and invention and motivation.
Music is inspiration. The evocative, moving nature of harmonies sparks feelings, images, and ideas for my writing. Music is creativity. Every song sings its own story that excites me in telling my own. Music is a soundtrack. Melodies enhance the atmosphere for my scenes and sharpen my words.
In essence, listening to music while writing further immerses me in the experience. My story plays like a movie through my head with the music augmenting all the right moments. I can see every setting, every action, every smirk of my characters clearly. And as the music carries me through the movie of my story, so does it carry my momentum in writing it.
Not any music will do, however. I cannot listen to music containing vocals with words, English or otherwise, because they compete with my written words for attention. Vocals that are nothing more than oohs, aahs, and ums, though, are okay.
As for genre, I favour soft, ambient, and new age-style electronic (not house, trance, dubstep, drum&bass and all similar derivatives), psybient, downtempo, electroaccoustic, new age, world (whatever that means, for what it’s worth), orchestral, and of course, video game soundtracks.
Right now? I’m listening to the original soundtrack of Fire Emblem: Awakening (here’s the OST on YouTube for those interested). It’s much more evocative than what this post calls for, but its contemplative mood is perfect for reflection.
Does music help you write? Do you listen to certain kinds of music for particular writing scenarios? Answer my polls and let me know in the comments!
Come lunchtime in my office, there are two rules one must obey or risk flatlining the conversation. One, don’t talk about books. Two, don’t expect anyone to be reading for pleasure.
And three, follow the popular TV shows or stay quiet.
I lunch with several other proofreaders and editors from my department every day, and although I am new to their group, their lunchtime ritual, and their downtime hobbies, quickly became apparent to me. In sum: no one reads for pleasure regularly and very few people read in sporadic bursts, but everyone watches TV.
This absence of reading mystified me at first. As publishing professionals who shape the final outcome of dozens of books every month, they should be well read, up to date on the latest bestsellers, trending topics and themes and styles, and on the lookout for up and coming authors. In short, they should be reading.
Instead, they watch TV as if their sanity depends on it, and then discuss the newest episodes at lunch with the analytical joy most book clubs approach their monthly read. I wondered, Don’t they love what they do? Don’t they love to read?
Of course they do—that’s why they’re in publishing. But after working with books for the entire workday, reading books in their free time can turn into work itself. And I don’t think they want to make reading unenjoyable for themselves—far from it.
Within my first few weeks at the job, I realized that I had joined in the lunch hour gatherings a little green and naive in the beginning. After a long day of proofreading, I tried keeping to my nightly routine and read for twenty minutes before bed. Not only was I too tired to read more than a mere page at a time, but I also just didn’t want to read.
Reading didn’t feel as relaxing as it used to. I kept proofreading my novel, checking the punctuation and watching the spelling, and questioning each instance of hyphenation. I couldn’t help it; I couldn’t turn off my proofreading mindset. I wasn’t reading the story anymore. I was reading the words. Reading was work.
I experienced what they had probably realized a long time ago.
Now I understand my colleagues’ lunchtime ritual and downtime hobby, and I feel bad for having judged them so quickly. Besides, I enjoy listening to their discussions of their favourite TV shows, even though I’m not a serial TV watcher (video games are more my thing).
So as for me, I am working my way through The Picture of Dorian Gray and overcoming my new proofreading habit page by page. You’ll have to be patient with me: my review of the book won’t be ready for a while, but it will come. I just need to stop reading every punctuation mark and I can enjoy reading once again.
Panoramas of the illuminated city skyline, crowds of gyrating bodies, flashes of hands on bare skin, flickers of laughing faces and wet red lips, glasses of drinks passing around, glimpses of a back alley, closeups of a loaded wallet unloading, and the final image of a metal bar clanking onto pavement, its end covered in wet red. And Nothing But Thieves’s Trip Switch plays till fadeout.
A narrative technique that first developed in cinema, the montage is quickly becoming a staple of contemporary television series. Whether setting up the crime of interest for the latest crime drama, or showcasing a time lapse of high-tech research in the new sci-fi hit, the montage appears in force during prime time programming.
I like montages for their effect, but I dislike them for their over-use. The writer in me, though, is in complete and total envy.
As a narrative technique, the montage exemplifies what film can do that writing cannot. The montage combines visual and auditory sensations to create an emotionally charged story within a story. The video clips edited together in quick succession and overlaid with music dip in and out of the narrative, highlighting only the story’s most telling points.
A montage from the Seinfeld episode “The Butter Shave,” season 9, wherein George pretends to be handicapped to enjoy the benefits of a private handicapped washroom. This montage shows George’s antics over time by highlighting the humorous moments without being tedious.
The purpose of this narrative technique comes in three flavours that often mix together.
One, it speeds along the narrative. When a sizable period of time needs to be covered, and often when that period does not contain notable events, the montage moves the story through it instead of simply skipping over it.
Second, the montage acts as a point of interest in the narrative as a whole. It can be the opening, the closing, or the midpoint revelation. The montage can be crucial to the plot of the narrative, as when in the opening or midpoint positions, or important to the overall impact of the narrative.
Because the third goal of the montage is to arouse particular emotions in the viewer. From contemplative sadness to excited anticipation to plain curiosity, the montage is effective in evoking response thanks to its well-chosen music.
The result of the above goals is a streamlined mini-story comprised of fragmented images.
Can I create the same effect in writing, without the aid of visuals and sound? My attempt at it in the opening of this post demonstrates that no, I cannot. My like-dislike relationship with montages, however, pushes me to continue trying. To perfect the flashes of images, the threading of fragments, and the soundtrack of emotions.
This would be the perfect time to cue in a montage…