I’m always curious to know how many authors listen to music while they write, and how many consider it a distraction. I’m one of those people who can’t write without music—usually LOUD music, which makes no sense because all other types of background noise really zap my concentration. It could be that music drowns out everything else, allowing me to focus. That’s probably true. (Especially when I’m wearing headphones and can’t hear the kids fighting in the next room.) But I also find that music provides atmosphere, helping me visualize the setting and characters more vividly.
Each project gets its own playlist. MOTHMAN had mostly folk music by the likes of Mumford and Sons and The Civil Wars, because those artists fit the tone I was hoping to establish. Thanks to Pandora, I also had the pleasure of discovering new artists along the way, like Crooked Still and Sarah Jarosz. They were added to the playlist, too.
My playlists don’t change dramatically from project to project, since I always include some sort of paranormal or spooky element and I need the music to reflect that. So I don’t have any lists with, say, Dolly Parton or Metallica. But unexpected artists do sneak their way in. The theme music for a previous book that didn’t sell was, and will always be, a song by the Pretenders. That’s the appeal of the creative process: I never know what my very opinionated imagination has planned.
With this new project it’s been fun to explore the subtle differences in mood, conflict, and pacing. Trying out different musical genres as I write actually helps me shape the characters and the overall feel of the book. Cinematic music has been working pretty well, works by composers like Hans Zimmer and Alexandre Desplat. Groups like Passion Pit and One Republic have found their way into the rotation too. I try not to argue with how the muse chooses to further her agenda. I just do what she tells me to do.
I’m sure there are amazing studies out there about the positive effects of music on productivity and cognitive ability. I confess my interest is less grandiose. Someday, somehow, if a humble book of mine is ever made into a movie, my heart’s fondest wish is that it will get a kick-butt soundtrack. Who knows? Maybe some future writer will crank up the volume on her laptop speakers when she hears it, feeding her own muse in the great circle of (writing) life.
What do you listen to when you write? Beethoven? Lady Gaga? The soothing sounds of the rain forest? Let us know in the comments!
Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out spring 2015 by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.