I know my lease is up and the bailiff’s at the door
And still I’m hanging on to the life we had before
I listen to white noise or instrumental music when I write because I usually find silence and music lyrics distracting. But there are times when a song’s lyrics allow me to discover things about my story I’d previously been unable to see.
At a recent writing retreat, I vowed to shake things up and break through the writer’s block I’d been experiencing with my WIP. Part of that shakeup involved excessive snacking. Surprisingly (or not), competitive snacking didn’t trigger the breakthrough. Listening to music—specifically, Jacob Banks’s “Chainsmoking” on repeat—did.
Banks’s gritty, guttural sound and spot-on lyrics so clearly captured the dynamic of my protagonist’s volatile relationship with her ex, their story began unfolding before my ears. A few hours later, I had written over 6,000 words. Many of those words are backstory that will never make it to the page, but that backstory will be the thread that runs through my characters’ emotional arcs.
That breakthrough led me to create multiple soundtracks for my WIP. I’ve created writing soundtracks before, but they’d been general “writing motivation” playlists, or I’d created them after my story was complete. This time I used the soundtracks as tools to break my writer’s block. In the process, I discovered new layers to my story. Even if you’re a diehard “silence writer” creating soundtracks might help if you’re experiencing writer’s block.
Soundtrack Your Scenes and Chapters
Characters aren’t the only things that should convey emotions; scenes and chapters should, too. When selecting a song(s) for your chapter soundtrack, think about the many words we use to describe music; soaring, thumping, uplifting, exhilarating, soulful, mournful, and sensual, to name a few. Emotionally, where does your scene start, and where does it end? Is there a song or lyric that perfectly describes your chapter’s mood? When you find that song, submerge yourself in the atmosphere it creates and allow the emotions to flow through to your writing.
Soundtrack Character Relationships
My WIP is thick with the weight of an unhealthy relationship, and Banks’s lyrics perfectly capture that tension. The guttural, boozy texture of his voice and his pleading tone allowed me to experience my characters’ interactions more intimately than I’d been able to before. Use the mood and sentiment in your song choices as a spark for your dialogue’s tone and pace.
Soundtrack Your Book’s Settings
If you’re not a fan of listening to music with lyrics while you write, consider creating a soundtrack with only sounds. This exercise may help you write richer more descriptive story settings. YouTube has hundreds of videos featuring sounds such as babbling brooks, busy city streets, insects during the summer, and birdsong. Better yet, go outside, close your eyes, and be still. Then write everything you hear, smell, and feel. The idea is to record whatever your senses present in the moment, without censoring or editing yourself.
Tools to Help You Create Your Soundtrack
If lyrics or music isn’t your cup of tea, and silence doesn’t cut it either, the Coffitivity app might be right up your alley. The free app provides ambient café sounds to help boost focus and concentration.
YouTube offers hundreds of study videos to help with focus and concentration. Their user-created playlists can also be great, especially if you subscribe to their paid, ad-free YouTube Red channel.
When it comes to writing, is it silence or sound for you? Have you created a soundtrack for your novel? If so, share a link in the comments. If you have a Spotify account and you’d like to listen to the soundtrack I created for my WIP, you can listen here.
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