Music and Words

Most writers work in silence. Even the only notable exception I know of, Stephen King, apparently plays loud thrashy music only as a kind of ‘white noise’, not as something he listens to. Several writers I know say they can’t write at all if music is playing.

I, however, need music. I write in a garret (well, loft conversion), and every day before mounting the wooden stairs, I pick a handful of CDs off the shelves in the lounge. (As Beloved has reminded me on several occasions, I wouldn’t have to physically take the CDs upstairs if I allowed him to put my laptop on the Electronic Hive Mind. This invisible entity links every other electrical device in the house not directly associated with cleaning or food prepartion. However, I have refused to be assimilated, partly because I’m a cumudgeonly old Luddite, but mainly because having access to the Internet from my writing computer would be Unwise. Research as writing avoidence is one of my vices. I generally consider my laptop as a posh electric typewriter which also plays CDs.)

Not all music is suitable for writing. Anything with a heavy vocal component can be a distraction, so no rap or ‘shouty’ drum ‘n’ bass. Opera’s out too, but then Opera (along with Country) is one of the few styles of  music not represented in my collection. I’ve tried to like Opera, I know many people get great pleasure from listening to it, but whenever I hear it I can’t help thinking that if shagging/dying/striking this deal is so damn important to the singer(s), why don’t they just shut up and get on with it rather than spending twenty minutes singing about it in a language most of the audience can’t understand. I know, I’m a philistine.

The music has to be right for whatever I’m working. My current novel has a slight ‘low celtic fanstasy’ feel to it at the moment, so there’s a lot of British folk with occasional outbreaks of Phillip Glass and late Kate Bush. Anything in the mean and nasty world of the Three Cities (where my first novel and many of my shorts are set) requires some combination of grunge, goth and loud bangy stuff. Classical can be good for atmosphere, though inappropriate application of certain Reqiuems has lead in the past to outbreaks of angsty purple prose, so they’re best avoided. Humour or oddball diversions have a soundtrack largely consisting of rock of the older, lighter type plus eighties pop trash (the sounds of my youth). Perhaps the only part of my collection which rarely accompanies me to my garret is the ‘World’ music, possibly because to my Western ears it is too alien and intriguing to relegate to the background.

Given I’m in such a minorty, I worry whether this particular ‘writing crutch’ might be something I should attempt to discard. When things are going well I do sometimes write past the end of CD without registering the music has stopped. Perhaps I should try and wean myself off it, just taking one CD up to set the mood and then carrying on without it. Or perhaps I shouldn’t worry about what other writers do. At this stage, I’ll use whatever works.

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