Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gleeks, Music, and Writing Motivation

Gleek (n): super fan of the FOX hit television show Glee.

My husband doesn't watch Glee which means I'm catching up on about 10 episodes (or virtually all of the second season) of the show. I missed much of the first so I'm a relatively new convert or gleek. I found after I watched the amazing sing-off between Neil Patrick Harris and Matthew Morrison that I was singing Aerosmith's Dream On for about three straight days. If you saw the episode, I think you'll agree that nothing beats a good sing-off except, perhaps, a good dance-off (but that's another blog post for another day).

As I whistled away while walking my dogs, commuting to work, getting a cup of coffee, I got to thinking how much music affects our moods.

When I write non-fiction, I prefer to work in absolute silence but when I was embarking on my fiction manuscript, I found that music played a major part in my writing process. I may have had a great day at work but my character was really struggling. How do I turn off my personal emotions and tap into theirs? My answer was music. If my character was feeling nostalgic then I listened to Dream by Priscilla Ahn; if they were feeling lovelorn then I listened to Make You Feel My Love by Adele and Gravity by Sara Bareilles.

When I reached a writing block and couldn't figure out how another character might respond to my main protagonist I turned to music yet again. If my male character was feeling emboldened then maybe some Tom Petty, Won't Back Down would work...and you know what? It did.

I later discovered that playlists among writers isn't uncommon. Stephenie Meyer cites music as integral to her writing process. To view her playlists, see here. In fact, several artists who influenced her writing are now on the the Twilight Saga movie soundtracks. Susane Colasanti credits music as writing inspiration as evidenced here. Colasanti fans will probably recognize several of the playlist songs actually make their way into the book.

And one of my favorite blogs for writers, Literary Rambles, had an article recently about how to tap into music to break out of a rut.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. We all probably have a kind of playlist for our lives. For me, I can't hear American Pie without being transported back to my high school prom after-party or Fast Car without thinking of driving around town with my friends, windows down, singing at the top of our lungs. Those songs come on the radio and I'm 17 again. Come Away with Me brings me back to my wedding night in my flowing, white dress. Memory (from Cats) is the music box my mother gave me when I was 10. I'd come home from a tough day, turn the dial, and the stresses would just...wash away. Even now, I hear that song and I think of the beautiful porcelain horse turning around slowly in sync with the music and how I swore gifts didn't come more magical than that.

But what about you? What music brings you back to a certain place in time or changes your mood in just a few notes or motivates you to sit down at the keyboard and finally give voice to the characters in your head?


  1. Wow! Great post. My life is a series of play lists I won't bore everyone with but I will say this -- they are one of three kinds of music: soft mood music like Nora Jones, alternative music like Nirvana or Hip Hop like Eminem. What does that say about me?:-)

  2. I am super glad someone else has theme music! It was recently brought to my attention that I am in sparser company that I'd thought when it comes to listening to music, like, all. the. time. The first thing I do in the morning is turn on my ipod, with only a slight pause to check traffic and weather (together, on the 8s!), and throw on my sunglasses to head out. Maybe it's because my parents always had tunes on, but I need music to feel sometimes. Perhaps this is a bad thing, because I've found my moods can be swayed on a dime according to what the shuffle brings up. Case in point: this morning I was on top of the world with some sweet Hall & Oates (you make my dreams come true), and ended up feeling like crying to Neil Young's Philadelphia on the bus. I should make more playlists, but you know me: I love surprises. (Also, horror movies. I'm pretty sure it's the adrenaline. You would think from this I was the kind of person to do more 'on the edge' things. Sadly, not.)

  3. Ooh Sarah, I love me some books, but I love me some singing/music better. I always thrown on Pandora when cleaning the house, or http://www.stereomood.com/ is awesome as well. It matches your mood to music. Most glorious thing ever.

    As with Glee, Peter pretends he doesn't like it, but sometimes he throws out a Sue Sylvester quote and I know he's a closet fan. I get upset if he talks to me during a episode, that's how much I love it.

    I was/am a choir geek (which means that I would now be popular) and there is nothing like Carmina Burana O Fortuna to get the juices flowing, and being a soprano, it was the best piece of music I could have ever learned. Not to mention it was in Latin, so I felt a bit sophisticated.

    When I'm alone and feelin' sassy Paula Cole Feelin' Love. Listen to the song, you'll know why. (Although I just played it and sang it for Peter and he felt uncomfortable).

    My favorite song of all time is Kashmir by Led Zepplin. It's also my father's favorite song so that may have something to do with it's appeal. Guitar riffs always appeal to me as well.

    While my two best friends and I were stuck in a traffic jam, we played Blister in the Sun on repeat. We entertained the cars beside us and created a dance we still do to this day.