Music has always been a huge part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are listening to Mozart with my grandfather or wiggling away to Elvis with my parents. I’ve dedicated my life to music, first with grandiose ideas of becoming a world-renowned flutist, and now as a music teacher for elementary school kids. The latter is far more rewarding, and enjoyable!
I couldn’t imagine a day going by without music and I absolutely couldn’t imagine writing without it either!
Music as Inspiration
Music often serves as my muse. Sometimes it’s the lyrics that get me, conjuring a certain emotion or even a whole scene in my head that plays out like a movie, which I inevitably end up incorporating into a story. I often seek inspiration from visual sources, scrolling through Pinterest, hoping to stumble upon something that speaks to me. Music videos prove doubly rich sources of inspiration, combining both visual and auditory stimuli, telling a story and simultaneously inspiring another one in my head. Thanks to Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ feature, I was introduced to the artist Crywolf. The lyrics and music video to his song Anachronism provided direct inspiration for my newest YA novel (currently on submission – cross fingers for me please!), finally providing me with the imagery I needed to take the book in the direction I’d previously been a little hesitant to. It may or may not be that I now picture my main character looking a lot like the guy in this video…
Music as Character
Once I’ve started working on a novel, I try to find songs to best represent my characters. These songs don’t necessarily have to match the character’s individual musical tastes, but should capture their personality and their emotional/psychological make-up. I list these songs on the character sheets I create and even make mini playlists for individual characters that I can listen to before writing. This helps me get into that ‘zone’ and also helps me develop the characters’ individual voices. When I’m feeling a little stuck in a book or lacking an emotional connection to what I’m writing, I try to find songs to represent character interactions or songs which encapsulate the mood of a particular scene I might be struggling with. For my character Quinn in I Heart Robot, his song quickly became ‘Human’ by Civil Twilight. Listening to this song helped me get into my character’s mind and enabled me to see through his eyes and to also better understand his role in the story.
Music as Soundtrack
Before I even start writing, I always create a playlist for the WIP. These playlists consist of any and all music I think captures something about the novel: a character, a setting, a scene I might have in my head, the overall tone of the story I want to write. As I start writing so I edit the playlist, pruning away tracks that aren’t relevant and adding more that are. In this way, I end up with a carefully crafted playlist for each book. The music helps me not only in the drafting phases, but also while editing or revising, especially when it’s been months or longer since I last worked on the story. Coming back to an older work can be hard and it can be challenging to rekindle your love for a story or find the spark that made you want to tell that story in the first place. This is when I find the playlists most helpful.
If you’re wondering where to start in creating your own playlists, feel free to check out my public ‘Writing’ playlist on Spotify. This is a generic playlist I use to collect songs, and even entire albums, I think would make for good writing music. It’s often where I start listening for inspiration at the beginning of any new writing project.
Do you use music when writing? Do you use music differently in your everyday life?
Xan van Rooyen
Climber, tattoo-enthusiast, peanut-butter addict and loyal shibe-minion, Suzanne 'Xan' van Rooyen is a genderqueer, non-binary storyteller from South Africa, currently living in Finland where the heavy metal is soothing and the cold, dark forests inspiring. Xan has a Master’s degree in music, and--when not teaching--enjoys conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. You can find Xan's short stories in the likes of Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Daily Science Fiction, Apparition Lit, and The Colored Lens. Xan hangs out on instagram, twitter, and facebook so feel free to say over there.
Pronouns: she/her; they/them.