Friday, 24 April 2009

Music & The Creative Act

So yesterday I continued working on the most difficult pages of my new novel, Grass and Ember, a particularly harrowing four chapter arc that ends one characters story and propels the reader into the final third of the novel. I've been working slowly on these pages, as it seems each word needs to be precise, more precise than I usually go for. I like my prose to have looseness, almost like a conversation, but this needed the exactness of poetry, it needed to sing.

Now when I write I mostly do it in silence. I loathe distraction when I'm writing because I like to lose myself in the work. I see sentences rising up, a symphony of words, and a distraction can cause all those words to come tumbling down, and my reconstruction of them never feels as solid as the first elusive thought I saw. However, launching into this four chapter arc I found my resistance was up, I simply did not want to go there and write them, to think what my character would have to think for this sequence of events to even be remotely plausible. Using Spotify (a wonderful new way of presenting music to an audience, through which I've discovered hundreds of artists I normally wouldn't have and has led me to buying CDs I normally wouldn't) I came across an album by Ludovico Einaudi called Le Onde. I read that this orchestral work was inspired by Virginia Woolf's The Waves, and so I put it on and listened. Here is where the strange symbiosis began: as I was listening I could see the words rising up, the right words, the way into this arc. I kept writing with the music playing and when the album finished I began it all over again. This one CD has become the soundtrack to these chapters; I find I can't write without it playing, but I also know that when these four chapters are done I won't need that album again, because the nature of it will be at odds with where the novel goes next. I'm not sure how a piece of music can so affect another form, but it does. I've experienced this once before: when I was finishing The Inheritance of Things Past, I played Always on my Mind by Willie Nelson over and over during the last three pages, one song on loop.

If Einaudi's album helped me find the precision I needed, I wonder know if other works would help me find the precision for other chapters, other works. Is there a corresponding piece of music for every creative act? What piece would best suit a road trip, for that's what is coming next in Grass and Ember, through the Scottish landscape, up near Aberdeen, where the North Sea batters the shore, and the sky is overcast, the sun breaking through, spears of light, and the car racing forward, towards the unknown?

I wonder if other writers find music releases them in the same way. I remember reading that Ethan Hawke, when writing his novel Ash Wednesday, has music on loudly, always playing. Do you need music when you write? Let me know. I'm off to write the last chapter of this arc, and afterward I might just need something overly jolly to bring me out of the depth of despair the character is going through.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your comment on the Bransford Blog- that lead me here!
    I have a 'writing' i-tunes list.
    The numbers of plays make fascinating reading for me - 13, 24, 245, 17 etc. If I'm writing in a certain mood I have always used music to help me create it.
    Spotify was my top find of last month too!
    Good luck with the next book.

  2. I also have a 'writing' i-tunes list. But I have one cd I can return to again and again, it serves as a kind of 'trigger' to start and continue the writing space.. el-Hadra "The Mystik Dance".