Using Music as a Writing Tool

Ah, finally. A post about music. I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time. I love music, don’t you? One minute you can be sitting at your desk staring at a blank piece of paper, and the next minute you’re in a completely different world, and with each pulse of the music, the story moves along as if it had a heartbeat of its own.

Music is strange, to be sure. It affects us in ways we can’t often explain. If you think about it, all music really is is just a series of random sounds and tones. If you know the science behind sound waves, you’ll know that music is just a bunch of air molecules bumping into each other, with varied frequencies and amplitudes, interpreted by your brain as sound. And how did we ever figure out how to get these sound waves so precise so as to tell a unique story with every song?

Using Music as a Writing Tool

It blows my mind every time I think about it. Music can speak to us in ways words could never do. Somehow, simple melodies can make us smile or cry uncontrollably, feel nostalgic or uneasy, or even leave us with a sense of mystery. We get chills by listening to that epic masterpiece and compulsively dance along to the rhythmic beat that we can feel in our chest.

The more you think about it, the more you realize how odd music really is. People dance or do gymnastics routines set to music. And the music isn’t there to amplify the beauty of what the person is doing; it’s the other way around. We dance because we feel deeply how beautiful the music is, and we want to express it somehow. There’s a reason movies have soundtrack, and there’s a reason that some stories are completely set to music (ahem, musicals. They’re the best.) It’s because music is a deeper level of storytelling; it captures something that words could never capture.

people-2585962_640There’s a reason we sing songs when we worship God. It’s because something inside of us is captivated by the beauty of God. He is incomprehensible, his beauty beyond human explanation or expression. I think, in a much smaller way, music is similar. We know how beautiful it is because we feel it deep inside, but we can’t explain it.  Besides, God specifically designed music as a form of worship. The Bible says that the angels in heaven sing songs to God.

There’s a reason people like to listen to music when they work out, or when they study. All sorts of scientific and psychological experiments have been done on that, but you don’t have to be a scholar to know that it works. I personally love listening to music when I study, and contrary to popular belief, you can listen to genres besides classical (although, I do love classical music–Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Scarlatti, and Shostakovich, just to name a few!) Most days though, power metal is my favorite, and if you know me, that might come as a surprise. You can thank my dad for that. (Theocracy is my favorite band. You should look them up.)

Music is also a valuable writing tool. Because it is a deeper form of storytelling, I like to listen to it when I write. It usually inspires a phrase or a paragraph, and sometimes entire scenes that I never would have thought of on my own. It makes the writing process seem like magic (most of the time. The writing process is fickle, as you probably know.) Whenever I go back and read stuff I’ve written previously, there’s always a little bit of music there too. Between the lines. I associate certain characters with specific songs, and sometimes listening to a song will bring back emotional memories of entire books.

If listening to music while writing is more distracting than helpful, it can still be a valuable writing tool. You can listen to it before you start writing, to get your brain into writing mode. If you write historical fiction, you can find songs written in that time period. You can even find song artists’ voices that sound like your characters. Unless you just really hate music (which would be sad), I highly encourage you to try using it for writing.

Music gives us something we couldn’t express or understand otherwise. All music tells a story, because every composer, every songwriter, has something to say. Much like authors write books because they have a message for the world, songwriters write music because they want to convey something to their listeners. I’m going to close with a quote by an author whom I love and look up to:

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”

-Victor Hugo

How have you used music as a writing tool?

What’s your favorite music to listen to?

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How to Find Inspiration (also known as How to Force the Muse to Pay You a Long-Overdue Visit)

I have read many posts and articles about how to find inspiration, or, in many cases, how to let inspiration find you. No doubt you have, too. And in this post, I’m going to try not to repeat the tips that are used over and over again. This post is not about how to let inspiration find you. It’s not about waiting for the muse to show up. This post is about how to summon the muse.

music-1874621_640Music. I’m listening to music right now… the organ is booming, and the chandelier is rising, and the opening notes of the prologue are just so inspiring because they are telling a story. Every note is perfectly timed, perfectly tuned. Every sound you hear, every breath you take, is in sync with this glorious unfolding story. The notes fill your chest, and the story itself takes root and blooms inside of you. If you close your eyes, you can see something… an inkling of something beyond your imaginings.

That was a little bit random. I wasn’t planning on including it in this post, but I rather like it. (Yes, I was listening to The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, if you’re wondering.) I hope to do an entire post or two about music one day, because I believe that music is one of the driving forces behind the entire universe. Don’t ask me why – I just do. There has always been something symbolic about music… Aslan created Narnia with a song in The Magician’s Nephew. Tolkien used music to illustrate the fall from perfection in The Silmarillion. And I use music to create my own worlds and my own characters.

Music always tells a story. There is always some sort of idea that the composer is trying to get across to his listeners, if not an entire story. There are always emotions that are carried in the music. So to find inspiration from music, simply pick a song that you like – one that has always grabbed you and taken you by the hand and swept you away to the realm of imagination that is reality in some abstract, mysterious way… Try not think about anything as you listen to the music. Don’t try to get inspiration, or it won’t work. Let the music itself guide your thoughts. In your mind you’ll start to see the story playing out. If you’re trying to get past writer’s block, you can think vaguely about your story you’re working on, but mostly let the music direct you. It’s surprising what you can come up with.

It is a little bit hard to get to that state of mind where you’re not thinking about anything at all (especially if your mind is always busy like mine), but even just listening to music helps me when I write.

book-863418_640Books. This one seems obvious: Read other people’s creative works to learn how to do it yourself, and to get your mind off your own book. But that’s not exactly what I’m going to say, because everyone else says that. I’ve discovered that rereading old books actually gives me more inspiration than finding a new book to read. Go back to your childhood and reread your favorite books. Those books that you loved so much because you weren’t quite old enough to fully analyze a story, and you were just there for the sake of the story itself, and you didn’t have that annoying voice in your head analyzing the author’s every word…

I find myself captivated by the story itself. There’s nothing wrong with reading new books, but I’m just more inspired when I reread books I’ve already read three times.

book-1209805_640The Gospel. I have gone to the Bible many times for inspiration. Most of the time I wasn’t even looking for it, but the inspiration just popped out at me. The first time something like that happened, I just happened to be reading in Romans and I realized that the character I had just created was a perfect illustration of some aspect of the Gospel. It was pretty awesome. Besides the obvious fact that the Bible is the greatest story of all time which contains absolute truth, sometimes you can get wonderful ideas for stories.

Sometimes reading the Bible feels only like a duty and you don’t really take the time to truly appreciate the words of it. The Bible is the Word of God, so it makes sense that we should hang on to each word as we read it, our breath catching in our throats as we see the story that is unfolding before our very eyes. And we know that every word of it is true, which only makes us doubly excited. And when we look at whatever we’re reading in context of all of Scripture… the feeling is indescribable.

(Normally I would take that as a challenge and attempt to describe whatever it is I had said was indescribable, but for now I am going to leave it for you all to discover.)

So that’s my take on where to find inspiration. Are there any important things I’ve left out? Is there anywhere you go to for inspiration that I didn’t mention? You can let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear from you!