The title reads, “Top 10 Ways Music Helps Me Write,” but you could substitute the creative activity of your choice: painting, sculpting, or even more rote activities. I’ve written about the music related to the creation of Stay With Me. Music has an uncanny way of altering mood and spirit. I’ve found that the right music can help me cope on the most trying days, elevating frustration and drudgery with lightness and good humor.
- Serves as background noise. Sometimes a little white noise cuts the distraction. The rhythm and hum of music can help you tune out the random noises, sounds, and dare I say, voices, that drive you to distraction. My mom couldn’t understand it, but I often did high school homework with music in the background. It improved my concentration.
- Sets a scene. The right song characterizes not just a sound, but a whole atmosphere. Depending on its era of origin, it can help establish setting: time and place.
- Sets a mood. Music, whether instrumental or with lyrics, sets a mood and stirs particular feelings that the can be translated into words or action.
- Tells a story. A good song tells a story with an economy of descriptive words, pregnant with meaning. Not only lyrics, but prose can benefit from that skill as well.
- Helps foster creativity. In my experience, creativity feeds creativity. Nothing fires up the creative juices like listening to music, viewing art, reading a well-crafted novel or poem, or soaking in the magnificence of the outdoors, the ultimate creation.
- Creates empathy for my characters. Identifying with a song’s “feeling” can help me empathize with a character, and therefore write with more honesty and credibility.
- Invigorates. Nothing jump starts the ol’ heart like music. Languishing over tedious edits? Take a music break. Facing down scrubbing the toilet? Add a soundtrack. Music brings life.
- A lyric to build on. Sometimes just a snippet of a song encapsulates an idea so perfectly that it serves as a foundation for dialogue or even a theme. In my current work-in-progress, Vance Joy’s “Your Mess Is Mine,” neatly fit the heroine’s acceptance of the hero’s damaged life. I slipped a similar line into her dialogue. Here’s the short passage from Ornamental Graces, Emily speaking: “. . . I can be right in the middle of the mixed-up mess of my life not knowing exactly where I’m going but be confident that’s where God wants me. That His plans don’t look like my plans. That perfect doesn’t necessarily mean flawless, but more like completed. Fulfilled. . . What I’m saying is, it’s okay. You don’t have to keep apologizing for your mess. Your mess is mine.”
- Evokes memories. Music (second only to scents, in my experience) has an uncanny way of uncovering distant memories. It can help you recall an event, a mood, and particular feelings with clarity, which is priceless when attempting to “write what you know.”
- Provides a familiar touchstone. In a shared culture, a song may be more than a song. It is a shared experience. National anthems, alma maters, songs used at sporting events, political campaigns, Christmas carols, or even viral videos create an instant connection with others, for better or worse.
Do you use music to foster creativity? To elevate moods? Just to get through the mundane parts of the day?