A Little Write Music

Katherine Longshore 5 Tuesday, June 28, 2011
When I was younger, I periodically wished my life had a soundtrack.  The Darth Vader theme when my government teacher entered the room.  A John Hughes-style love trill before my first kiss.  Rocky’s uplifting score while I prepped for the SAT.  (Yes.  I was a geek.)

But as my life continued, I realized that it actually did have a soundtrack.  One dictated by parents, peers and pop culture.  The Mozart and Pete Seeger of my childhood.  My roommate’s rather regrettable taste in college.  The Bonnie Raitt song I still can’t stand because of the boy who sang it to me.  The road trip tapes that got me across Africa.  The BritPop of Radio 1.  Songs like “Little Boxes”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “She Don’t Use Jelly”, and “Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go)” can conjure images, scents, sensations and emotions more potent than any film.     

I’m sure all of you connect to music in the same way (though I’m willing to bet not with the same songs).  Maybe for you it’s classical music or show tunes or Stevie Ray Vaughan or Adele.  There’s something about music that just grabs us by the throat (or by the collar) and doesn’t let go.

I think that’s why, for me, music is such a powerful tool in my writing toolbox.  Sure, I listen to Renaissance music, and have a CD (or two) of songs written by Henry VIII.  And these help me with period atmospherics (and with plot points in book 2).  But this isn’t the music that helps shape my characters and strengthens the tone of emotional scenes.  I grew up with pop and punk, threw myself head first into the grunge movement and came out the other side (still with a penchant for pop and punk).  This is the music that forms the soundtrack to my writing life.

Inspired by the montage in Sofia Coppola’s MARIE ANTOINETTE set to “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow and I took off with the idea of setting historical characters to the music I love.  I make playlists including artists like Green Day, Snow Patrol, Pearl Jam, the Waterboys, Regina Spektor, Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne.  I prefer silence when I write, so I listen to them in the car, at the gym, while cleaning the bathrooms.  I add and subtract as characters change and grow.  My kids learn to recognize them and love them and start to sing along. 

And suddenly the music morphs into the soundtrack of their childhoods and the story continues.

To me, music is an essential part of the river that shapes my life and my characters.  I couldn’t do without it.  And neither could they.

What about you?  Do you listen to music as you write?  And how do you view the soundtrack of your own life?


I definitely listen to music as I write. It inspires me and helps me tune into my characters and get into their heads. Can't do without it!

I'm like you, Katy. I need silence for the writing time, but I make soundtracks for the manuscript, and listen to them when I'm not writing.

Oh, I love to write with a soundtrack in mind. And I love the idea that you can get inspired about your historical characters by listening to contemporary punk and pop. I think that writing certain scenes with a song playing in your head allows you to tap into this cinematic sense of drama that improves the intensity (and maybe even quality) of your writing. Great post, Katy!

Some of my best creative ideas come when I'm cooking and listening to music (and maybe sipping a glass of wine). Lately Florence and the Machine and Fleet Foxes have been inspiring me. Madonna's "Ray Of Light" never fails to zap awake my creativity when I'm blocked or discouraged (like today). Also U2"Beautiful Day" and, reaching far back into my life's soundtrack, Jackson Browne's "Doctor My Eyes". Or anything Jackson Browne, really--I guess he's my solo, trilogy-length soundtrack. Thanks, Katy! You have reminded me to go turn on my music.

Thanks, everyone. Music taps into something elemental in all of us -- I think that's one of the reasons why we love it so much. Love the idea of a "cinematic sense of drama", Eve! And PB, I hope some music helps you get unblocked (and/or undiscouraged) very soon!

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