My Writer’s Music – the Sound of Creativity

Here and there, I’ve had online discussions with other writers about their “writing soundtracks.”

Some writers require silence while they’re hammering away at their WIPs. The thought of listening to music, even their favorite song, while they’re creating just doesn’t sit well. Others have certain artists or songs that they have playing as background noise while they’re creating their masterpieces.

Normally, I fall somewhere in the middle. As a general rule of thumb, I can’t write with background noise. The TV must be off. The dryer can be rumbling, but if it happens to give me one of those damn “I’m done” buzzes in the middle of a critical writing moment, I’m toast. And music? No. If I play a song that inspires me while I’m writing, the next thing I know my fingers are tapping in time to the music rather than pounding out words on my keyboard. My brain is mumbling the words to the song instead of delving into my character’s heads.

What I do instead is use music to unclog the brainwaves if I get stuck. If I hit a wall and just can’t seem to break through, I’ll take a breather and play a favorite song or two. A little Weezer, some Toby Keith, a dose of Jimmy Buffet, Counting Crows. The song will vary based on my mood. But whatever it is, I’ll focus on nothing but the music and jam out for the duration. I might even bop around like a Superdork in my living room and squawk like a chicken (for me, that’s what passes for singing).

It may not be pretty, but it clears my head. More often than not, when I turn off the music and settle back down with my story, the words are flowing again. I’ve gotten unstuck.

So I guess I’m a writer who needs silence when writing, with the occasional break to soak up some music mojo.

Over the last few months, I’ve learned that I have one exception to the “no music while actually writing” rule.

Lee has always been a musician at heart. He’s had electric guitars over the years, but didn’t have one when we met. I did get to see videos he had of himself playing with a few other guys. He is and always has been a hard rocker, and those jam sessions showed it. The music was loud, fast and angry – but angry in that good kickass way.

Now, I love to go there with music, but in limited doses. That’s my kind of a music at a concert, before a good sporting event or maybe for exercising. But when I’m just chilling at home, I generally want something more mellow. Deep down, I’ve got a country girl’s soul. I’m also known to go a little “geek” with my music, as I call my love of Weezer or Bowling for Soup.

Since all I had to go on was the videos, I figured that was what Lee does with music. Hard core. And it is.

But earlier this summer, our neighbors across the street had a yard sale. Sitting out on their lawn amidst piles of clothes and knickknacks and the kind of stuff I generally refer to as “OPJ” (Other People’s Junk) were two acoustic guitars. We decided that Lee would wander over and check them out, and if they were reasonably priced, get one.

He came home with a guitar and the biggest grin I”ve seen on his face in a long time. Even his smile when the Ravens stomped the hell out of my Steelers last week doesn’t really compare.

On an acoustic guitar, he’s a different musician. He still rocks. But he also goes blues, and a little country. And now and then, even a little punky. He’s never learned to read music, but you wouldn’t know it when he’s got the guitar in his hand.

I don’t like writing after work. My brain is fried. This has made my writing goals tough since we’ve gotten back to going to the gym in the mornings before work. So I’ve figured I have to try, at least a few times a week. I can’t do ALL my writing on weekends and random days off if I want to meet my goals and still have a life.

So one night about a month ago, I came home particularly inspired. On a worknight, that feeling is like someone serving me a hot fudge sundae for dinner when I’m used to a steaming plate of broccoli. Instead of forcing myself to sit down and hammer out a page or two, I was rarin’ to go.

As I was working, Lee came out to the living room, sat down with the guitar in his hands, and started strumming. At first, I worried that it would break my concentration, since I’m a “silence writer.” It did for a minute or two, but I forced myself to keep going. And before I knew it, I found myself in a different kind of zone. His playing in the background, just loud enough to be heard but not overpowering, drowned out all the distractions in my head. The world was just us, his music, and my words.

For whatever reason, I suddenly CAN write with music in the background, as long as that music is Lee on his guitar. Maybe it is because he doesn’t sing when he plays – there are no catchy words getting stuck in my head and taking my mind off the ones I’m typing.

But I think that’s only part of it. What I really feel is going on is that I’m inspired by the creative vibes in the room. Sometimes when he plays Lee emulates the music of his favorite guitarists, but more often than not he’s making up his own thing as he goes along. Since he doesn’t read music he records the songs he’s made up with our camera so that he’ll remember them. He’s not just playing. He’s creating. He’s making music.

And, for me at least, there’s something about someone I love being in a creative zone that helps me get there too. He’s there doing his thing. I’m there doing mine. We’re both doing something we love and tapping into the creative wells that are a big part of who we are. The guitar is strumming, the keyboard is clicking, and all is right with the world.

I love those nights. It is wonderful to finally be able to have a soundtrack for my words.

It is the soundtrack of creativity.

What is YOUR writing or creative soundtrack? Do you listen to music while writing or use certain songs to help kick in your creative mojo? Or are you a total “silence writer?”

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About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Creativity, Relationships, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to My Writer’s Music – the Sound of Creativity

  1. Catie Rhodes says:

    Like you, I have a hard time listening to music while I write. Unless the music totally fits the mood of the scene, I find it hard to concentrate.

    However….sometimes I listen to Gospel music while I write. I’m talking The Swan Silvertones, The Staple Singers, The Blind Alabama Boys, and Sam Cooke. My husband stays far, far away when he hears this music pouring from my office. LOL

    Fun post. 😀

  2. kimkiminy says:

    Great post. For writing, I need total quiet or maybe some soft music. More importantly, I simply can’t write if there’s someone else in the house.

    For painting, though, I need to have something soaring, chilling, and inspirational, no matter the genre, and playing rather loudly. And I need a glass of brandy, too. Different needs for different outlets.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Your description of your painting environment – the music and the brandy – makes me want to start painting again myself : ). I used to oil paint in my teens and early 20s. I really wasn’t good, but I had fun with it. I’m lucky that I can write with someone in the house, since the only times I have to write (very early morning on non-gym days or later at night) are times it wouldn’t really always be fair to expect Lee to go do something. But I think that’s part of what I love about the guitar thing – we’re both here but off in our own creative zones. And I do enjoy those Saturdays that he heads off on fishing trips and I have no plans, and I can sit in silence and write all day if I want!

  3. akamonsoon says:

    Great topic. When I was younger I could write with the radio on and not think twice about it. Maybe now that I’m older my mind it too harried and while I can still write with music on, there can’t be any distracting lyrics. I too will start singing along. Same while working. Classical seems to draw me in and carries me a long the day best.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      You just made me remember that I used to write college papers and creative writing course assignments with music on all the time, Monsoon, and I got some really good stuff down too. I think you’re on to something with this “now that I’m older” thing. Maybe we had room in our minds then that just isn’t there now … : ).

  4. Interesting post I say as I sit here in silence. I used to have music in the background. Lilting, soft sounds—new-agey stuff. But my brain doesn’t like that anymore. I get stuck either listening or writing. I can’t multi-task in my head. Well, I should say I’m already multi-tasking—writing and pushing the dizziness away OR listening to music and pushing the dizziness away OR talking with someone and pushing the dizziness away. It’s just what I have to do to do what I have to do. 😉

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I can’t imagine that, Lorna, and kudos to you for being able to push it away! I do know what you mean about not being able to multi-task, though. For me, my biggest struggle as a writer is often not being able to push work stuff or other things that are weighing on my mind out of my head enough to devote my full attention to what I’m writing. And when I can’t do that, of course what ends up on the page is sub-par.

  5. Aurora says:

    Silence or classical strings work best for me. But in doing the CW program, one instructor said that we should be able to write in a boiler room. I’ve always admired anyone who can but I find if there is too much noise or distraction, I am thrown off. Quiet is probably best 🙂 Although I do admire anyone who can play a musical instrument so Lee has not gone unnoticed for his talents, lol. Just understand your need for silence to work… or else I don’t much lol

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Your instructor is probably right about how we should be able to write in a boiler room, but I know I could NEVER do it! I’m not even great at writing with the TV on in the background … in another room!

  6. Patti Kuche says:

    This is such a touching post and I wish you and Lee so many happy hours just doing what you’re doing. How lovely for you both. Keep writing!

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