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two violin players and a cello player looking at music while they perform
Photo by Roxanne Minnish on Pexels.com

One of my favorite things to find out about successful writers is what they listen to when they write. A range of options are popular, from the ambient noise of a coffee shop (sadly not available during the pandemic) to specific playlists with anything from hard rock to movie soundtracks. But there is some magic going on, the right music starts and you are halfway into the creative dream, or flow if you prefer.

As a music person, I absolutely prefer music to a bunch of people talking. For one thing, if I am in a coffee shop where folks are talking, I start transcribing conversations, which is fine if I’m just free writing ideas, but not so much when I am rewriting a section and suddenly, instead of planning the final attack on the evil empire, the characters start discussing the latest kitchen renovation plans. I have an on again, off again relationship with a World War II novel and nothing gets me in the mood to work on it more than my Big Band playlist (pun intended.) Big sweeping things need big sweeping music and the Lord of the Rings soundtrack works nicely. And there are quite a few video games with epic soundtracks that work quite well. 

At the day job, for a while my office was just across the hall from a band/orchestra rehearsal room that had absolutely no soundproofing. We’ve since moved to a more state of the art site, but I miss having the live music right there, clarinet squeaks and all, during the work day. Even if I could not hear phone calls due to the Jazz band improvising. Christmas was the best, who doesn’t love live Russian Christmas Music? Now, sure, I can cue up Naxos and listen to the leading university bands any time I’d like. But something about hearing it live, and having the musicians stop in my office after rehearsal for a piece of chocolate. 

Ind the end, movie and video game soundtracks, for me, are like close captioning for the emotionally impaired. I have a hard time putting emotions in my writing (ask any of my critique partners through the years) and music helps define the emotions. And for me, it’s 100 percent better if it’s a instrumental soundtrack, where the music is the product of the movement, breath, and sweat of human musicians rather than a synthesizer. It’s the soundtrack that tells me I shouldn’t trust this person, that the hero has fallen, but not forever, and that yes, in the end, the king will be crowned.