The Songs and the Words: Music and Writing

There are people to whom music is like air, a necessity of life that is as natural as breathing. Life is a song and some people surf through it on strains of music from iPods and computers, radio and CDs and cell phones. Yea, in the days of yore, it was boomboxes on shoulders and cassette tapes and Walkmans. (In the even yea-r days of yore-r, it was 8-tracks, which was before my time.)

And I daresay that to a vast majority of writers out there, music is quintessential to the writing process. I've known writers who could hardly write a word without a song trickling through the computer speakers or earbuds, or a particular playlist going strong in the background. Music can lubricate the creative process, help set tone and mood, aid in the flow of words.

Myself, I'm not much of one for writing with music. I tend to find it distracting because I start concentrating on the song rather than producing narrative, and that's really not so great when I'm writing about knights fighting ninjas or a demigod decimating a city.

However, once in a while I do feel the urge for a little musical aid, either to match the scene at hand or as a general morale/creativity-booster. So here are a few songs that I find myself listening to now and again when writing:

1. All the Right Moves – One Republic

Krispy showed me this video. I'm impressed they manage to waltz to such a fast beat and still have it look so graceful. It's such a great song too. This is my catch-all mood-booster music, not for any particular scene or tone—it helps get my brain going and keep up some momentum.

2. You, Instrumental Version – Higurashi no Naku Koro ni

I haven’t watched this anime. All I know is that it's a psychological thriller involving cute girls going psycho and committing murder. But it has a beautiful image song, of which there are 2309480293842 variants, versions, and remixes—something like one version sung by each of the main female cast, this instrumental version, and numerous covers done by fans the world over.

With its melancholy sweetness and curiously wistful air, I listen to this song when I'm writing more serious scenes, albeit not necessarily sad ones.

3. Rose of May – Final Fantasy IX, cover by katethegreat19

I never finished playing FFIX, but you don't need to know a thing about the game in order to enjoy this marvelous cover by the talented katethegreat19. The original theme is wonderful by itself, but this cover is amazingly done—this girl does everything herself, from recording each individual instrument, writing her own lyrics, and mixing it all together. Check out her other covers—they're all amazing and enjoyable regardless of whether you're familiar with the originals or not.

This song works best for me when I'm working on a particular fantasy story involving a female protagonist enduring court politics and assassination intrigue, probably because I vaguely associate the heroine with the song lyrics and the music itself is so stately.

(Also, check out this video compilation that shows how she created the cover for the Cleyra Settlement theme from FFIX. Astonishing.)

4. Battlefield – Jordin Sparks

I first heard this song playing on the radio when I was at Big Lots looking for cheap yarn. I had the song stuck in my head for a week afterward, although the music video itself does nothing for me. The lyrics are a nice combo of epic and angst and determination.

This is another catch-all song that I listen to whenever, though I find I listen to this one more when the scenes involve action, from rampant worldwide destruction to ballroom dances.

5. Prospero's Magic – Prospero's Books (film)

Prospero's Books is a film by Peter Greenaway, an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest. I had to watch it for one of my classes at school. And it is, uh, very artsy, with some fascinating visuals and some, er, bizarre moments. It's one of those films where I feel like I could easily crank out a half dozen analytical essays on etc. aspect of said film, because it's so very open to interpretation and analysis. I liked it overall, but I also have to admit to feeling a little bemused by the time the credits began to roll.

All that aside, it had a wonderful soundtrack. Much to my surprise, I was actually able to find the main track that I liked on YouTube, though embedding is disabled for this particular video. I like to listen to this track when I'm working on setting a scene or characters enter a new environment worthy of detailed description.

6. Sadame (Destiny) – X TV series

X is an anime/manga by the group known as Clamp, probably their top most famous work before xxxHolic and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles—and also infamously unfinished. There were issues with the magazine in which X was published and through one thing and another, Clamp stopped working on it. The TV series ends one way, the movie put out years earlier ends another, and the manga sits unfinished. But X is full of more angst, drama, trauma, betrayals, and plot twists centered around the end of the world than you can shake a stick at.

It also has an epic main theme of destiny, destiny, destiny. I listen to it whenever I need a little more destiny in my life. Or in my writing.

I think six songs is enough for now, though of course there are plenty more, including a few that I'd intended to share but could not find any samples available online. Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a set playlist or specific songs you associate with a particular story? Do you create soundtracks for your stories? (I've done that last once or twice. It was pretty fun putting together a CD soundtrack by assigning songs and tracks to particular scenes or moments or characters. I daresay it helped me focus and write better, though admittedly the amount of time I wasted picking and choosing songs was considerable.)


Tahereh said...

so true -- i totally agree. sometimes it takes the right song to put me in the right mindset. crazy cool how it works!

XiXi said...

Even though I don't generally listen to music while I'm writing, I almost always create a playlist for fun. Music is inspiring!

Krispy said...

I think we all need a little more DESTINY in our lives. :P You know, I can't really listen to the piano version of Sadame much any more because it makes me so very melancholy.

I'm with you though. Music usually distracts me, especially if there are lyrics.

Alz said...

Tahereh - I only wish that music would trigger creativity more often. If that were the case, all I'd have to do would be to set a playlist to play and BAM! Instant writing!

Icy Roses - I like making playlists too! Even though I end up forgetting that I made them and then hardly ever use them.

Kirispy - But the piano version is so pretty! The only problem I have with it is that it's very quiet volume-wise compared to everything else, so I end up cranking up the volume for that and then when it changes to regular Sadame it's like DESTINYYYYYYYYY.