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Music and Writing

Updated: Nov 28, 2022


Image: Freestock by Pexels, Thibault Trillet.


There are several ways in which I use music in my writing.

1. To create a sense of place or time in the writing.

Music, particularly pop music, provides a clear sense of time and place. For example, if you mentioned music such as Chuck Berry, Elvis or Bill Halley in a novel, the reader would be taken to the USA of the 1950s. Similarly, music from Taylor Swift, Britney Spears or various boybands you'd transport the reader to somewhere in the 2000s.

In 'Darwin's Wake' I've mentioned a couple of songs in this way, most notably Hush's Bony Maronie (1970) and Dave Warner from the Suburbs Suburban Boy (1978). Copyright issues can be a problem if you directly quote song lyrics, but you can still use music in this way if you're careful.

Do you have songs or music that transport you to a time and a place?

2. To Directly Inspire Writing.

Music or lyrics can often provide a prompt for writing. I find Paul Kelly's music provides this to me. I've 'channeled' To Her Door and How to Make Gravy in some of my writing. Another example is Cold Chisel's Choir Girl, a song that I liked for at least twenty years before I appreciated what it was saying. Sometimes it's just a few lyrics or a title that catalyses thought. Rebecca Ferguson's Nothing's Real but Love is such a song. What a great song title and it's a piece that explores many issues. I started to collect a list of one-liners from songs to use like this. Send me an email if you'd like a copy.

3. To create a mood when I am writing.

While some music may not get a direct mention in the text on a page, I often use music to create a mood to immerse myself in the sense of the writing. This can be similar to that mentioned in point one or even more subliminal. These songs tick over in the background while I'm writing and can either take me to the time or create the appropriate mood.

Music I've used this way includes Fleetwood Mac Rumours (the whole brilliant album), Eagles Take it Easy, The Teskey Brothers So Caught Up and Rolling Stones Wild Horses.

4. To provide a blanket of 'white noise' when I write.

This might be disrespectful to the great musicians I've used in this way, but I find a single song on loop can help me to get into the zone. Sometimes every little distraction in the house seems to disrupt my train of thought, rendering the process of writing laborious. I've found certain songs, played to the point where they become white noise, can get you in the zone and help you stay there. I've used music such as JJ Cale's Magnolia, Elvis Costello's Alison, Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash's Girl from the North Country and Gymnopedie No 1. By Erik Satie. Three hours down the track, it is impossible to know where the time has gone, but the word output is validation that the technique works for me.

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