I’m of two minds when it comes to music and writing. On the one hand, it can be a helpful shortcut to get me into a consistent emotional space for a particular story, cutting through whatever else is going on in my life to make sure I’m on the same “page” when I set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). On the other, I often find that once I’ve started writing, the lyrics of a song can be a distraction. Sometimes I solve this problem by listening to instrumental or electronic music once I get underway, other times I just shut the music off once I’m in the headspace I was looking for.
What I generally find challenging, however, is putting together a playlist to support the writing of the actual piece. A piece can have a “soundtrack,” but it takes vastly more time to write a few pages than it does to listen to one song, which I find can have an almost schizophrenic effect on the tone of a novel.
In working on a current project, I’ve found that each character has a few songs that help me find the feeling I need to write sections of their stories, but when it comes to assembling new playlists for new characters (each segment of the story is told from one character’s point of view) it can be challenging. Sometimes the songs that put me in the mind of a character are quite different from the songs a character would like or listen to, and sometimes I can’t think of more than one or two songs that fit, right off the bat. It’s annoying and unproductive to have to keep thinking of another song to add to a playlist, but putting one tune on repeat for an hour-long writing session is the best way to guarantee you will never want to hear that song again. (I used to have the same problem when I made fan music videos – hey, I was young once. I still can’t listen to some of those tunes without wincing.)
How do other authors put together their playlists? Is it instinctual or calculated? Do songs fly from your mind to your Spotify or iTunes? Do you use different playlists for writing than what you use for the “playlist” that’s eventually publicized to readers? I’m curious about how this process works for other writers, and hope some will comment to add their two cents.