A fair number of the writers I know from Forward Motion for Writers create and use music to help them focus on their stories. One I’m close to (as close as one can get over the net) uses Techno blasted at incredibly loud levels to unhook her mind enough to be able to write. Another creates playlists whose songs either match the “epic” feel of what she’s writing, or specific character emotions and the plot.
Occasionally, I’ll use one song to help me focus on a story or project. For instance, recently, I’ve been listening to “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane to help me write scenes in Degrees of Subtlety. Don’t know why this song is working for me, but it works a lot better than the rest of the playlist it’s from at present, and has been for the past week or so. It doesn’t have any tie to a particular plot point or scene, though it does reflect Arrowroot’s feelings, particularly once he’s separated from Sweetbriar; it seems to be a song which describes regrets and a longing for an earlier time, and though he’s firm on his “need” to be away from Sweetbriar, Arrowroot does nurse these emotions.
On the other hand, when I get ready to read through anything in the Discordant Harmonies series or to do anything related to it, in fact, I’ll put on the full playlist. Recently, I’ve been opening this list and manually selecting the first song to play, which has typically been “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. The only relation to anything in this story the song has is the fact Géta’s father, who is on his deathbed, tithes Géta to the Temple. That’s all. However, the mood of the song is what induces me to play this one first, because so much of Géta’s life as Asthané’s musician rides on the fact he has no choice in his status. Yes, he could have chosen not to accompany Asthané—but at the cost of something he loves dearly, something which gives him peace, comfort, and happiness and which he has always dreamed of pursuing. Another song from this playlist, which I listen to before going to sleep at night, is “Follow You Follow Me” by Genesis. This epitomizes in a lot of ways the way Géta comes to feel for Asthané, particularly in the later books I have planned for this set of books. I don’t listen to “Stairway To Heaven” primarily because the volume of the song fluctuates too much for me to find a comfortable listening level where I can hear all the lyrics without half of them blasting my ears out—something I definitely don’t need when I’m trying to relax before falling asleep.
I typically acquire my story/series specific playlists by turning on my Daily playlist (the one without Christmas music), and announcing to myself I’m listening for songs which seem to fit a specific story. I did this to find the songs which seemed to fit DoS a few weeks ago, when I returned to working on it. The playlist I had at the time for it consisted of fewer than ten songs (I think only about half a dozen, in fact) and some didn’t really fit as I now saw the story. I removed those songs from the list, put on my Daily list, and listened to the randomized music until I finally had a playlist of over ten songs for the story.
I have, once, gone through my Daily playlist with a deliberate intent to hunt out the songs which I thought might best fit a story. I did this for Unwritten Letters. And I found plenty of songs which fit the story. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best solution to finding a playlist. I detested the playlist for the first week I listened to it, but my creative mind refused to work on UL unless I was listening to it, so I couldn’t avoid it. This was not a pleasant experience, though it did not turn me off the story or the music. I did eventually come to like the playlist, but I don’t intend to ever go through my Daily list on a deliberate hunt for songs; I’m much more comfortable with the playlists I develop with my standard “notify subconscious of search” and random play method.
For an example of the reasons why certain songs “click” with a specific story/idea, I’ll provide one playlist and the reasons behind why the songs worked for the story I wrote while they played. (Spoiler Warning)
Story: Brotherhood A: Stirrings
1. “Baby Come Back” by Player – Doéna develops a romantic relationship with another character, and it ends badly; this song describes how they both feel about their separation afterward.
2. “Ballare” by Cirque Du Soleil – Essentially represents how Doéna’s romantic interest feels about him.
3. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee – Pretty much every prominent relationship in the story.
4. “Hope Has A Place” by Enya – Why Doéna doesn’t give up on anything until absolutely forced to.
5. “Hopelessly Devoted To You” as performed by Olivia Newton-John – Doéna’s conflicting feelings for his prince and his romantic interest.
6. “I Melt With You” by Modern English – How Doéna feels about his romantic interest.
7. “I Want Your Love” by Chic – The reaction Doéna’s love interest has to Doéna’s unswerving loyalty to his prince.
8. “Joanna” by Kool & the Gang – It’s an ode, and if nothing else, Doéna’s love interest is sappy over him unless they are disagreeing on his loyalty to Lorien.
9. “Lost In Love” by Air Supply – Doéna and his love interest . . . when they aren’t disagreeing over Doéna’s loyalty to his prince.
10. “Misery” by Maroon 5 – Lorien’s relationship with Necée; how Doéna feels about his separation from his love interest and, at the beginning, about his unwelcome feelings for his prince.
11. “Missing You” John Waite – How Doéna feels after he and his love interest break up.
12. “Moondance” by Van Morrison – Mood, something which hit the heart of the relationship between Doéna and his love interest—the simplicity their relationship could have had if they hadn’t been at odds over Doéna’s loyalty to Lorien.
13. “One Of These Nights” by Eagles – Doéna’s hopes for all the conflict in his life to settle favorably for himself.
14. “River” by Sarah McLachlan – Doéna’s despair when everything goes badly.
15. “So She Dances” by Josh Groban – How Doéna’s love interest feels about him.
16. “Somebody’s Baby” by Jackson Browne – More of how Doéna’s love interest feels about him.
17. “Still Loving You” by Scorpions – The lingering feelings Doéna and his love interest have for each other after the fallout which separates them.
18. “Suddenly” by Billy Ocean – Apt characterization of the way the relationship between Doéna and his love interest begins.
19. “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin – How Doéna feels about, at first, his prince, then, later, his love interest.
20. “Tender Is The Night” by Jackson Browne – Mood, pretty much fits how Doéna feels about Lorien at first and his love interest later.
21. “Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina & the Waves – Doéna’s moments of joy, when things are going well between himself and Lorien or himself and his love interest.
22. “When It’s Love” by Van Halen – Mood, Doéna’s sappiness over, at first his prince, then, later, his love interest.
Now, if you’re still with me (LOL), I’ll add a bit more.
The more songs I can fit to a particular story, the better my focus on the story. It sometimes bothers me I have so many relationship-oriented songs in my story playlists (this is typical of all of them thus far), but I find I’m better able to concentrate with longer lists, so I try not to fight my discomfort too much. Usually, I find when I start a playlist and get into a scene, the act of writing enables me to focus past any discomfort I may be feeling, which is part of why UL’s playlist worked so well despite me detesting it for the first week or so after creating it.
Sometimes I can listen to my Daily playlist, but that’s rare. The utter randomness of the songs which can go from Enya to Ozzy Osbourne to Danny Elfman breaks into my concentration too much. I’m also for the most part mainstream in my music selection. This is not because I’m afraid of stretching my music tastes, but purely because what little time I spend hunting out “fresh” music to add to my Daily playlist is still, even after years, focused on finding music I’m already familiar with in some way. I’m always happy to find new songs I like to add to my music collection; I simply haven’t found the time or attention necessary for finding them unless I’m passively listening to the radio in a friend’s car or while I’m showering (both methods being the ways I discovered any of the more “recent” songs on my example playlist or mentioned in this post).