It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.

So, here’s a thing: I don’t think I’d ever be able to put pen to paper without some form of noise going. Whether it’s the TV playing back all of the shows I missed years ago (I never seem to catch them at normal human times) or my iPod blaring out something loud and screamy, I need something going on. A silent room is like writers’ poison to me.

Usually, it’s music that I have going, and more often than not, it’s late-70s and early-80s hardcore punk rock. It’s kind of funny, as I was born in 1978 and therefore missed all of it the first time around — the first time I listened to any new music was 1991, the Guns ‘n’ Roses Use Your Illusion record. Before that, I just listened to whatever my parents had on in the car, more often than not bland, nonthreatening oldies from the 50s and 60s.

The problem here is that when I listen to something, I always want to put that music into whatever it is I’m writing, just like filmmakers do with their soundtracks. I want to use the music as a shorthand to set the scene, to highlight the emotional state of the characters. When you’re writing Sci-Fi, though, this is hard to do (though I still managed to put some punk-rock influences into 47 Echo, because I’m sneaky like that).

So, am I the only one with this particular handicap on my writing? If not, what do you watch/listen to while you write? How does it influence the work as a whole?

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16 comments

  1. I’m addicted to my ipod at the moment. It definitely helps me focus on writing, but only if it’s MUSIC playing, not songs. It’s like my personal cocoon, shutting out the rest of the world for a few hours. And if the music is appropriate to the story–while writing my latest adventure, I listened to Bernard Herrman’s soundtracks to the Harryhausen monster movies–it can act as a storytelling muse. It also helps keep the energy up. Great writing tool.

    Nice post, Shawn. Not long to go now till 47 Echo releases!

    1. Bernard Hermann was kind of a genius, wasn’t he? I love his score for Taxi Driver.

  2. I can’t listen to music while writing. If I can’t ignore the sounds around me while I’m working, I can’t concentrate. Luckily, I’ve learned to tune out cartoons going in the background.

    1. But. . . cartoons are awesome!

  3. I have a soundtrack for every story. In fact SEA OF SUSPICION had so many Rolling Stones inferences I had to edit with a huge knife 🙂

    1. Ah, the Stones. They often creep into my writing playlists, as well — especially Let it Bleed.

  4. You’re not the only one. Every one of my stories has a jump-off song, my version of theme music.

    Once I’ve built a Pandora station around the jump-off song the soundtrack grows and imagery from those songs–on occasion the songs themselves–work their way into the manuscript. I’m damn near pathological about it. I tried to stop but Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” showed up on page three of my latest.

    Should we start a support group?

    1. Indeed. “Writers who can’t stop listening to awesome music while writing (and don’t want to).” To gain admittance to our meetings, one needs to bring their manuscript and a copy of “London Calling” by The Clash.

      1. I’m in! But, um, we need to work on the acronym. Yes, to the membership dues (lovely old The Clash) and also a Pink Floyd t-shirt must be worn over or beneath ones clothes at all times…

  5. Monica · · Reply

    For me? Class Actress. Something about a beat that would get a stripper’s ass shaking that gets me in the mood to work on writing.

    1. This is why I listen to loud stuff. That, and Lord knows I have plenty of it.

  6. It always depends on what I’m working on. Certain projects tend to have their own playlists. I can’t work in silence, though; I get distracted by every little noise if I try to.

    1. Exactly — music helps to drown out all of the little “what the hell was that?” moments.

  7. For me, music is what keeps my butt in the chair, typing. But I often listen to punk & industrial, which I can’t really let influence my writing, because it’s not especially romantic 😉 Although, a number of the men in my stories end up wearing guyliner…

  8. Yes! Music really gets me into the mood to write about all sorts of space adventures. I’ve got my writing playlist loaded with “music” made from actual sounds of stars and galaxies, some floaty new age stuff, and some classical stuff too. No words though, they are way too distracting for me. — Laura

    1. I hear that. A lot of the songs I listen to while I write are old favorites — I know the words without having to listen to them.

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