In a Not-So-Silent Way

Having been out far too late on a Monday night at the Jens Lekman show (if you don’t know Jens, DEFINITELY worth checking out), I’ve had music on the brain all morning today. So, I was pleased to find this article from the New York Times “Draft” blog by Aaron Gilbreath on how Miles Davis influenced his writing style. Gilbreath draws an extremely effective analogy between Davis’ concision of phrasing and his own attempts at creating a stripped-down style.

But while it’s a very insightful piece of analysis, I had to wonder—was Gilbreath actually listening to Miles Davis while he was writing? In other words, did the music influence him while he was in the act of creating, or did he recognize the correlation between Miles and his writing later on?

I’m not posing these questions as criticism, but out of interest, because for years and years—going back to high school, even—I always wrote everything with the stereo on. And by and large, I never gave much thought as to whether what I was listening to was affecting my prose. It seemed like I managed to get words on paper with just about anything on in the background. Okay, I’ll admit I shied away from the loud stuff and the free jazz when I really had to concentrate, but not because I thought it might come out in my writing—forgive me, Music Gods, but sometimes Husker Du and Ornette Coleman just give me a headache…

Anyway, all of this is to ask: Do you write with music on in the background? If so, do you find the type of music dictates your style? Or, do you look to music (or other art forms) when you’re NOT writing as an influence on your style?


11 Responses to In a Not-So-Silent Way

  1. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    I almost always write with music on. Either that, or I put in a movie that I’ve watched so many times I can quote it line for line (The Karate Kid, original not remake, is one of my favorites to use). As far as it influencing my writing style, I can’t say yes or no for sure; but I can say that if it does that is not my intent. Mostly, I just find my living room too quiet without something on. I know it sounds weird, but if a room is too quiet I get distracted easily because I hear everything from the fridge running to the water in the water heater refilling to the cars driving by outside. It drives me crazy. If I have a movie or music playing it drowns out everything else and I can concentrate better.

    I will say though, that I have had more than one moment while listening to music, either while writing or driving in the car or on the crappy radio I have to listen to at work, that I was like “Ooo, that songs reminds me of [insert character here].” or “This would be the perfect song to have playing in the background during [insert scene here].” So while I do not believe that music influences my writing style per-say, I do believe that it jump starts my brainstorming ability from time to time. 😉

  2. Silver James says:

    I’m one of those writers who considers putting a “play list” in the back of the book. I often pick music that fits the mood for a scene I’m writing and all of my main characters have a “theme song”–one that reminds me immediately of their personality/story as soon as I hear it. This helps tremendously if I get stuck or if I get off track with a character. Every book in each of my series has it’s own “soundtrack.” For instance, Roxie’s “She’s Got The Look” is dead on for one of my female protagonists. I can hear the song randomly on the radio and have to stop to write notes to myself. Luckily, she is an on-going character is a series so those notes will all bear fruit eventually.

    Like Kellie, there have been times when a song sparked the Muse and I ended up inspired to write a new manuscript. In the case of my second published novel, it was actually the soundtrack to “The Last of the Mohicans.” I wore out two CDs playing the soundtrack over and over. I can read the book and tell you exactly what track inspired a particular scene. Yeah…I know. *hangs head*

    Interesting topic today. I’m always curious as to what other writers think about music.

  3. D.C. DaCosta says:

    I’ll edit to music, but not do actual, original writing with any sound other than the traffic outside the window.
    I actively listen to music. That is, it engages my attention fully. I cannot relegate it to the background. Consequently, it’s too much of a distraction.
    I am intrigued by the idea of music style influencing writing style, though. It makes one wonder whether Dickens preferred Mendelssohn or Gilbert and Sullivan.

  4. First of all, lucky you: Jens Lekman.

    But to answer your question, I’ve always found it ironic that as a music/humor writer, I have to work in total silence. I wish it were not the case because then I could consume an extra eight hours of music each day. But I am constitutionally unable to let lyrics breeze by without concentrating on them, and then I start tapping out the beats with stray office supplies, and then I forget what chapter I’m even working on. It’s a mess.

  5. Joelle says:

    Must have quiet to write. My husband is a singer/songwriter/guitar player and while I stole…I mean borrowed…a bunch of his songs for my new book, I can’t listen while I write. However, I crank it up every morning in my writing cabin before I start and there might even be a little dancing.

  6. Tez Miller says:

    Ooh, I totally need to see Jens Lekman live someday. Shouldn’t be too hard, considering he’s a part-time resident of my city (Melbourne, in Australia). Still have “Pocketful of Money” on my playlist – that’s my favourite :-)

  7. Gill Avila says:

    I use a “white sound” generator. I like writing to wind, rain, random ocean waves. They’re conducive my fields of thought.

  8. Rowan says:

    I definitely write to music, and if it’s the wrong music it can take me out of the flow of the story.

    If I can’t have music, a coffee shop is good. There’s something about the noise of people that helps me relax. Or maybe it’s the coffee. A coffee shop with good music is my ideal.

  9. Nice, starting with the subdominant like that. I like this rhythm! Huh, I would never have given that melody to the bassoon but I think it works. Wait, what’s that harmonic progression?

    Yeah, turn on music and my attention is completely taken. There is no way I can write to music.

  10. The Hook says:

    The music in the lobby of my hotel (I’m a bellman) sometimes influences my mood, which in turn can affect my calls, which I will later write about, so music plays a big role in my life – and my writing, albeit in an indirect way!

  11. Peter Nye says:

    Listening to certain music helps me get in control of a restless mental feeling when I sit down to write, something I discovered while listening to Miles Davis, especially “Kind of Blue” or “Sketches of Spain,” which created the proper writing/editing thermal. Then reading Ian McEwan’s novel “Saturday,” I read a scene involving a surgeon in the operating theater who listens to Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” That inspired me to go out and purchase a 2-CD set of the GV. I found, wow! here’s a grreeat thermal–you can hear the sublime piano to relax and then when your concentratin focuses, it feels so quiet and still. Like a magic carpet of thought.

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