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Music to Create Worlds By

14 May

A lot of authors put a list of music that they listened to while they wrote at the start of their books. I love this idea. It not only gives the readers a soundtrack of the book to establish atmosphere and background, but it pimps out the author’s favorite bands, which is great. Cross publicity is always good, in my world. And it makes the author infinitely cool, if they happen to choose the right blend of new bands nobody has heard of and old bands that everyone thinks are awesome, with a couple of cheesy favorites thrown in to grab the widest demographic.

I adore reading a well-put-together musical inspiration page.

I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to have one in my books.

My problem is this: I have a hard time listening to music with lyrics while I write. At least if I’m playing it. If someone else is playing it, like the friend I write with, I can tune it out as background noise, occasionally surfacing to watch him riff lyrics and dance a jig.

This is not my writing partner, but he dances like this.

This is not my writing partner. He does dance like this, however.

But if it’s coming from my computer or my stereo, I want to hum along and get lost in the song. I’ll be writing away, happy in my little imaginary world, and then BAM! the mix I created to do housework to is distracting me with super-long-and-totally-unrelated-to-the-plot-but-incredible-sounding titles for novels, or inspiring character flaws from the self-centered woes the singer is moaning about, or sparking post-apocalyptic love story ideas I don’t want to have right then because I haven’t finished my current project yet. It’s annoying.

So, in order to deal with this, I’ve put together a playlist of instrumental dance music on my laptop. It’s up beat, word free, and goes on forever with just enough difference from song to song that I don’t get bored. It’s perfect. Of course, most of the artists are from the nineties and no longer even produce work. So there goes the whole “I’m really cool because I listen to the hippest music” thing that most authors’ music lists put forward (subconsciously, I’m sure…oh, wait, no, I’m not).

I’ve added instrumental movie soundtracks to my writing playlist as well. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, any western that’s come out in past decade, eighties sci-fi movies, maybe some Guillermo Del Toro stuff to lighten things up…it all flows nicely behind the story unfolding on my computer screen. But I can’t pimp these out either. The minute I say Bram Stoker’s Dracula, you see Gary Oldman, stalking Winona Ryder in his way too tall hat and John Lennon glasses, right? Not really what I want to associate with my novel about teens with superpowers. Brad Pitt with a six-shooter? Not appropriate. The end of the world with saxophones? Not really going to give readers the gist of my tales either.

Recently, I’ve discovered the worst possible music to admit that you write to, if you want people to think you’re cool: classical music. I turned on the cable music channel on my TV a few weeks ago and proceeded to switch through all the stations, from pop to alternative to 80’s, with the same problem as above. They all yanked me right out of my writing space and made me want to dance. Not conducive to a fulfilling work session. Then, on a whim, I turned on light classical. Guess what? It’s fantastic. I’m talking light classical, too, not even regular classical, which was too heavy and depressing. No, I worked for hours to the sort of music your great great grandma did her cross stitch too. Happy, tickling notes and up sweeping crescendos that make you want to have a ball and invite Mr. Darcy. That’s what I wrote my novel to. It worked better than the dance music, even though my novel’s not a period piece.But it really doesn’t work if I put light classical artists in the music list of my urban fantasy novel. What, I’m gonna promote Mozart and give him a boost on iTunes? That guy doesn’t need my help. And I’m pretty sure any readers I may get for my tale of a teenage werewolf cop investigating the murder of the head of the Illuminati won’t really care about classical music*. I could be wrong, but it’s just a hunch.

This guy is doing just fine in sales, trust me.

This guy is doing just fine in sales, trust me.

So I’ve resigned myself to being hopelessly uncool on my novel’s musical inspiration page or maybe not having one at all. I guess I have to give up on the hipster dream in exchange for long and fruitful writing sessions. It seems like a fair trade, overall. I suppose. Maybe. Sigh.

* Story ideas have been changed to protect..well, my story ideas. Although most of my plots are just as silly, if not sillier, than this.