The Nighttime Novelist...accomplishes more in about 240 pages than a dozen other "how to write" or "craft your novel" books have ever done.

--Helen Gallagher/Blogcritics




Saturday, November 6, 2010

NaNoWriMo Tip #6: A Little Writing Music (Part I)

One of these days--when I have some "free time"--I'd like to do a series of posts on the relationship between creative work, the meditative state it requires, and music. Today's not that day, because there's too much to be done, but since I brought up Brian Eno in yesterday's post, I thought I'd follow up with a few words on music's role in the, or my, writing process.

Really I use music in two ways: 1) in a targeted sense, when I'm looking for a piece of music that specifically inspires and informs a particular scene or moment, and 2) in a more general background sense...when I need music coming through the old earbuds that helps me fall into the trance wherein the coffee shop that puts up with me disappears, and the world of the story is the one I'm tuned into.

To speak of the first type today, and then tomorrow post a few favorite background albums:

Back in the summer, when I was finishing up work on my novel The Strikeout Artist (now in the hands of a few trusted readers and off my desk, thank God), I was having trouble figuring out how exactly to portray an early scene wherein my protagonist, the writer Franz Kafka--who's been drafted as a pitcher for a baseball team, in spite of the fact he's never held a baseball in his life--takes the mound and fails in spectacularly incompetent incompetent the whole thing becomes interesting again, like the weird ballet you'd see watching a riot in slow motion.

That's easier to explain to you than it is to convey in scene, and what helped me was finding the right bit of music and listening to it until I felt the right tone.

The song that did it? Delibe's famous "Flower Duet" from Lakme.

Now, I'm not even sure why the song fit the tone I was looking for--a full scene of a lanky pitcher, scared out of his mind, throwing base-on balls into a dugout. But it did the trick.

If you're having trouble with a particular scene or moment, especially if you need to nail down the tone of a scene, consider what kind of soundtrack would help prompt the feeling in you first. Then listen to it while you tackle the scene.

PS: I never, ever want to hear the "Flower Duet" again.


  1. I really like this favorite so far. Sometimes I'm jealous of musicians, for the way they can so easily craft a tone. Or at least it SEEMS easy. Easier than can be done with words.

  2. Thanks for the comment, internet stranger. :D

    Though I think composers approach it like we do...starting off with an emotion or feeling they want to convey and then thinking, "What in the world would THAT sound like?!" And then trial and error until it sounds like it came out right the first time.