I started a new project this week, one that equal parts thrills and terrifies me, and surprises me with unexpectedly funny moments. I love that I’m only three chapters in and it’s already surprising me- to me that says the characters are as real as I can possibly make them.
But, after all of the planning was done, after I had the outline of sorts written into my notebook, waiting to see how much or little I’d deviate from it, and before I opened up a fresh word doc and typed so much as Chapter One, I spend a few hours going through my music.
My life has a soundtrack. There’s music over the system at work (thank God or I’d go NUTS), there’s always music playing in the car, and when I’m home, there’s either music or something on the TV to provide background sound. When I write at home, it’s with my iPod plugged into a speaker. When I write elsewhere, it’s with the headphones in. Without music, my brain comes to a crashing halt. I lose the ability to focus, get way too distracted by all the sounds going on around me, and yet silence (such as could be obtained through noise cancelling headphones) freaks me out just as much. Not only does it make me feel deaf, but my brain starts trying to fill the void with imagined sounds, which does not help with the focus. Even when I’m asleep there’s music playing, or there isn’t sleeping.
Until writing Elsinore Drowning, I never created a specific playlist for projects. I had a couple of staples that I could write to- Scythian and The Town Pants, usually, two bands I know and love, and sometimes The Tartan Terrors- and every now and then as I wrote a specific scene, I’d find myself putting a song on repeat that really just sank me into what I needed to craft. Around the time I was researching and planning for Elsinore, though, I kept stumbling across posts by authors I enjoy that talked about playlists. How much they helped, how they really just nailed the characters or certain scenes, and in some of them, how the song they were playing at a given point could even give away spoilers. As long as it was one or two, I was pretty much “meh, whatever works for them”, but by the time I hit a dozen, I was starting to wonder if there was something to this.
So, I decided to try it. At the very worst, it wouldn’t add anything and I’d go back to my standards tracks. It was an experiment with completely acceptable stakes. In the interest of approaching the thing right, before I even opened my CD books or iTunes, I sat down with a blank piece of paper and wrote down songs or bands that in some way captured the atmosphere I wanted to bring into the book.
It was a VERY strange list, and not one I would I ever have imagined writing to. This may or many not give you an idea of the book, but there was a lot of Evanescence, Linkin Park, Lacuna Coil, and songs that had been accumulated on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtracks. There were individual pieces stuck here in there- a song from The Town Pants, which kept me from feeling totally out of my depth, Josh Groban’s cover of a Cirque de Soleil song, Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox and Lord of the Rings, Saosin. I wrote the last quarter of the book to Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” on repeat, which stunned me when I realized it but also felt exactly right. There are songs on the list that I ONLY listen to while writing or editing this book, and the simple fact of how easily it let me slip into the world within the pages made me decide to do it again for my next project.
This is the fourth project with a specific playlist, and I’ve learned that forcing myself to really think about what the music will help me do helps me understand even more about what I want from the book. The single hardest song to find was one the evoked the atmosphere of a specific place, because while I had plenty that could fit the bill, I needed it to be non-intrusive, as well.
Because one of the things I’ve learned about book specific playlists is that it’s not enough that they work for the book- they also have to work AS A PLAYLIST. If the songs don’t somehow work together, if the jump from one song to the next is choppy and jarring, it’s going to bring you out of the page. Ideally, a playlist should do everything you want it to do for the book but also become something you don’t consciously notice. I know a playlist is right when I start the first song, start writing, and look up at some point later at the silence and realize the entire playlist has gone by without pulling me from the words.
Even after I’d pulled all of the songs, I had to spend another hour figuring out the order. Were there songs that acted as a theme for a specific character? For the first time, the answer was yes, so I knew I wanted that song to be where we meet that character. There were songs for specific scenes, which needed to be placed more or less with those scenes if you pretend the playlist and the outline are equal timelines (did that make any sense?). But then there are attitudes or places that repeat, and I didn’t particularly want to repeat songs within the playlist. Repeat themes? Fine. But not the individual songs. It required a greal deal of thought to come to something that worked both musically and inspirationally.
This playlist had another first, as well. There are some soundtracks that are so brilliantly done, so completely inmeshed in the situation in the movie or show they’re from, that I can’t write to them. I can’t hear them without seeing the images from the screen. I can’t hear “Cassandra’s Waltz” without seeing lips and a pair of baby blue peepers on a skin flap. I can’t hear “Impossible Planet” without seeing that beautiful, deadly black hole. (Why yes, Doctor Who IS on my Do-Not-Write-To-List, what makes you guess that?) For the first time, though, a handful of songs from Doctor Who so beautifully fit with the other songs in the list, as well as drew the appropriate suggestions of the characters and scenes, that they’re on the playlist.
In no particular order of significance, timeline, or frequency, Shiny New Project’s playlist includes songs from: The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos, Doctor Who, Cirque de Soleil, Scythian, Children of Dune, Inara George, Daft Punk by way of TRON: Legacy, The Piano Guys, Adele, Celtic Thunder, District Tribute, Pan’s Labyrinth, Celtic Woman, Final Fantasy X, Green Day, The Tartan Terrors, Masters of Chant, PianoSquall, and Solas.
Just looking at the names, it’s a STRANGE list.
And yet, when I put in the headphones and press play for the first song, it immediately sucks me in to this world so incredibly different from the one that surrounds me.
How about you? For those of you who write, do you listen to music when you write? And if you do, do you make specific playlists for it?
Until next time~