Friday, April 1, 2011

A Writing Practice Soundtrack: Part II

I wrote a new piece every other day, on average, for the second half of the month. This was the unstated portion of my odd little experiment with music and writing. I’ve been writing “shorts” flashes, poetic paragraphs if you will and the occasional poem or micro essay, while accompanied by the artists/albums in the post below this one.

Picasso's Three Musicians
Some artists didn't work with me. Goodie Mob, for instance, was distracting in that I would start to write then begin to bob my head (slight tilt to the right) and then I’d get totally distracted. I'm not kidding here. Rap music makes me want to dance, and it does not (given the limited options I tried) feed my immediate need to write. Rock, and there’s a lot of rock here: ditto, minus the dancing; add a slightly tightened gaze and more of an immediate head nod. Hard rock: enjoyable, but it really just made me drink my coffee quicker. Classical: a small gift. In fact, I’m listening to a classical station e-crafted by Pandora right now. I fancy instrumental music when I write. Blogs. Essays. When it comes to fiction, memoir, poetry: not so much.

Clumping together the genres as I am, next up was the jazz and alternative beats, which oddly had the same effect: a more poetic feel, a closer attention to cadence in the work at hand. Thanks to a friend's recommendation, I am now a devoted listener to Dexter Gordon and probably will be until I die. But Gordon inspires something in me that is less immediate than I need in the moment-to-moment past-time that is my writing practice. He and other musicians inspire something more far-reaching, I think. In other words, I now have a lot of bad poetry on my desktop. I say it is bad poetry because it is. It’s horrible poetry. But, maybe one day I can make it into good poetry. This is often the way with writing, and chances are my fiction is bad, too, but I am yet to realize it because I'm more easily romanced by my own fiction. 

When it comes down to it, I still need total and utter silence in order to indulge my favorite writing genres: fiction and essay. I can handle the sound of my coffee pot growling or the Southwestern birds chirping and screaming and carrying on as they do. When it came to this little experiment, I have to say that I would begin writing in just as clunky and awkward a manner as I always do, despite what song was playing. But, as soon as I got into the story, it didn’t matter what was playing, it distracted me. It was like my thought stream had to compete suddenly, even if it was just with a beat, even a good beat. I suppose I have to make my own beat. Or immerse myself in the beat, only to let it simmer there and come out in my writing in quieter times. 

Immediate Conclusion: I tend toward writing bad poetry with soft rhythms, a little bit better poetry with jazz and instrumental. Soft tunes indulge my blog writing—which I see as a one-sided conversation, not so much a literary work. I need complete silence for everything else.

I doubt this is of any use to you in your own practice because the ideal writing environment is a highly subjective thing, but it was an interesting experiment. Music became just another distraction when I really got immersed. Sometimes, I didn’t even notice I had shut off the music until I was done with a piece. Apparently, I crave solitude in a real way when I write. But now, I have an arsenal of music that will be playing when I’m doing just about anything else around the house, anything but writing. 


  1. Such an interesting post, Jen. To create something new, especially when writing a novel, I need absolute silence. Right now, I am listening to Beethoven's music because I am drowning out some very LOUD noise from inconsiderate neighbors. I can do light editing (on some work) with jazz or classical. I agree, the ideal writing environment is subjective, but this post fascinated me because I this is a subject that I not only think about, but have also discussed with other writers.

  2. Thanks for reading, Lisette. I'm trying to find that perfect routine for writing... if only to become more methodical and productive.
    Truth is, I'm pushing myself here because I'm a little blocked on my novel.
    Loud neighbors is definitely not ideal background noise. I love how you're drowning them out though. No one better than Beethoven for that. He commands. :)
    (hope your neighbors quiet down soon.)

  3. Jen this is Wunderbar! Indeed, this is an interesting post. I'm always fascinated by the methods writers employ to engage in their craft. You have inspired me to blog about my writing music preferences. Hopefully I'll post something shortly.

    Keep on trucking.

    BTW I like Dexter Gordon too though I'm partial to Coltrane when I'm working on new projects.

  4. I can't wait to read it, John. It's an interesting experiment. Highly subjective, I'm sure. I wonder if the same will be true, say, ten years from now. Maybe then, I won't be able to write a word without rocking out :) I'll be looking out for your post.

  5. Writing truly is a subjective experience. I like to write with my headphones on and music playing. But it's not even really about the music for me, it's more a shutting off of everything that's happening beyond the phones, ya konw?

    And hey, Jen. I gave a book away on my blog today and YOU'RE DA WINNER! You won a signed copy of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis!

    Pop on by if you get the chance and shoot me an email with your addy so I can get your book to you! ali at alicross dot com.


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