What is it about Music and Writing? It’s kind of like PB&J for the Writer’s Mind!

What is it about music that drives a writer’s creative processes? If you’re not a writer, this might not make much sense to you; but for all my fellow writers out there, I know you’ll understand.

I have sat down to write on something, be it poetry, script or novel and if I don’t have music playing that matches the topic or idea of what I am trying to write, then I simply cannot write. For example, if the script I am working on is a comedy, then I will be listening to silly songs like Green Jello’s 3 Little Pigs, or anything by Ray Stevens, Weird Al Yankovic and others. This songs make me laugh and therefore, the humor translates over into what I am writing. However, here is the strange thing… I could be listening to Ray Stevens sing Mississippi Squirrel but never write about anything the song lyrics mention.

It’s almost like the humor from the songs drifts into my head, gets shaken up with a few new ingredients added and then comes out through my fingers in the form of comedy that has no real connection to what went in.
Am I the only person who has had this experience? For the longest time, I honestly thought so. But I have come to learn of many fellow writers who also use music in this way. It’s kind of like auditory LSD or something. It frees your mind and what comes out is pure brilliance (usually).

Now I know some of you are thinking… “Well, I listen to music when I work out, or when I’m studying.” But really, it’s not the same thing. Yes, music is used to motivate us, or to help us remember; but not very often (at least in my experience) is music used to free one’s mind, or to get one into a zone of conscious writing. And yes, I also know there are others out there saying… “I listen to music when I paint, or when I cook.” Again, not the same thing. Does the music come across in your painting or in the food you’re preparing? Does it give you a means to reach a deeper mental level to bring forth the art or dish? No, usually it is there as background noise. (And no, I’m not saying it never happens – I happen to know an artist who uses music when she paints for just that reason – it comes across in what she is painting!) It is rare for music to be used in such a way outside of writing.

To give me a better idea of what I mean, when I practice karate (I’m a 2nd degree black belt in Shotokan) I have music playing to give me some noise as well as to have a beat to work to – and I usually listen to upbeat, kick-ass music. When I am cooking or cleaning, I usually have country playing. When I am meditation or relaxing, I have pan flute, or Japanese meditation music of some sort playing. What I am getting at though is the factor that I can have any type of country music or Japanese mediation music playing, it really doesn’t matter. But when I write (and from what I have learned, when my writing colleagues write) there are specific songs that we use. For example, when I am writing on my vampire novel series, I have a set of about 15-20 songs that I play and it keeps me in the right frame of mind to write the story. Also, when I am writing more of a Young Adult type of story – I usually listen to Japanese pop music – again a very select list. Each time I start to write something new, I have to create a new playlist for that material. But who ever creates separate playlists for working out. Does someone have a list for when they work their legs, and then a different list for when they work their arms, and again another list entirely for when they work their back? Some people may have a few different workout playlists, but they are not as specific as what I am referencing here.

Why does music have such a tremendous influence on writers? What is it about the sounds of the words, the notes, the rhythms and tones, which unlock our subconscious in a way nothing else can? How does music seem to unlock this secret part of our mental filing cabinets and why should this be so? Unfortunately, I don’t really have the answers to these questions, but I find the ideas extremely intriguing to say the least.

I am curious as to what others think about this concept of music and writing. Does music help everyone in this way? Or only certain people? And if it is only certain people, what makes these people different from those it doesn’t help? Tell me what your thoughts are on this matter, I am truly curious to hear what others believe!

Samantha Cook


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