When I hear Bruno Mars’s song It Will Rain, I immediately start writing. My reaction is near Pavlovian. While I don’t actually start drooling, if I’m not in front of a computer or have a pen handy, I’ll start composing in my head.
I’m not suggesting that Bruno Mars infused some special magic into his song. So what gives? Earlier this year when I found it distracting to write at home, I started writing at a neighborhood coffee shop.
I soon discovered I’d switched one set of distractions for another. Instead of being distracted by laundry and drifting dog hair, I had trouble blocking out the two women talking about their cheating boyfriends or the couple arguing about their finances. Don’t get me wrong…these were fascinating conversations, and a month earlier I would have been tuned into them, gathering dialogue or even spying for character development. But this time I was there to write: a burning WIP in my mind.
Out of desperation, I did something I’d never been able to before. I plugged in my earbuds and used music to block out the distractions. I made a playlist of seven songs: a soundtrack for my WIP. As I wrote, I listened to the playlist over and over again, and It Will Rain became so associated with one of the main characters (and indeed the project) that I’d loop just that one song at times, and it became background music to his persona, his story, his angst. And like I said, now when I listen to that song, I’m immediately “in the zone.”
And what a zone it is. Confession time. I just checked iTunes, and I’ve listened to It Will Rain a staggering 887 times—of course, I also wrote over 97,000 words in the process.
Sometimes, though, to really hear it I had to turn up the music so loud it almost hurt my ears—like the day the guy next to me made the identical sales call about a hundred times in a row, his voice loud and droning. I almost had his pitch memorized before I was able to get the music turned up sufficiently. But once I did and the second the music reached my brain, I entered the writer’s zone.
The weird thing is I haven’t always been this way. Up until a year ago, I couldn’t have any noise while I wrote; any small sound sent me in search of noise canceling earplugs. As I started writing this post, I got curious—were most writers like the old me or the new me? To find out, I decided to take an informal poll on the Writer Unboxed Facebook group yesterday. Interestingly (perhaps not surprisingly), there was a mix. Seventeen said they do listen to music; nine said they sometimes listen to music (often to drown out other noises or occasionally to create mood or when planning or editing only); eleven said they never listen to music while writing, that they had to or preferred to write in silence. Many who listened to music use it to drown out other noise or to create background or white noise.
Of course this wasn’t a scientific poll, but I found the replies fascinating. Some writers—like me—have playlists for WIPs or characters or certain scenes (for instance sex scenes or to get into a character’s head or to remember something from the past like a prom or a first kiss) or they use music to create mood or conjure feelings of a setting (whether ancient Israel, Kenya, or another century). One other writer also listens repeatedly to the same song(s) to “spur a scene,” like I do. (If you want to read all the comments, take a look at the Writer Unboxed Group page on Facebook!)
Firmly in the “music while writing camp,” Vaughn Roycroft wrote a post back in January about his connection between music and writing. I was particularly struck by this similarity we share:
“I know music is a distraction for some writers, but I’ve never been distracted. Quite the contrary. Very early in my writing life I found that the right music, especially at the start of a session, aided my immersion into the world of my story—even into a certain scene itself.”
Unlike Vaughn, I’m a newcomer to using music as a tool to immerse myself into my story’s world, but I am now a fervent convert. So it was that this week—as I started outlining ideas for my new WIP—I went to iTunes and started a new playlist. I can already tell some of the songs on that list will be hits and others will be misses, and there are three strong contenders for my new WIP’s zone song: Wild Horses (The Rolling Stones), Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), and Home (Michael Buble).
I suspect—just as with It Will Rain—one of these songs will inspire and inform the characters, mood, and writing of my new WIP. But only time will tell which of the three will resonate most strongly with the story and which will grant me entry and immersion into the writing zone.
Do you listen to music while you write? Or are you in the “need complete silence” camp? Or somewhere in between? If you do write while listening to music, do you use music to immerse yourself into the story’s world? Or to enter the writing zone? If you don’t listen to music, would you ever consider giving it a try, like I did?