Never underestimate the power music can have to help you write. I’ve been writing novels, short stories and freelance articles for over a decade now, and it’s gotten to the point where I am almost incapable of writing unless some kind of music is on the background. I even had a regular blog feature for a stellar e-mag (R.I.P., Infuze Magazine!) some years back which I called “The Stereo in My Mind,” which should give you a sense of the role that music plays in my daily life.
It’s natural, then, that when I am working there tends to be a soundtrack of sorts that accompanies me, and novels are no exception. I discovered long ago that I can’t write novels with the aid of music that has words–too distracting–but film scores are perfect for me. For years it was James Horner–Glory, Braveheart, Titanic–with the occasional bit of John Williams or Hans Zimmer thrown in for good measure. But now, outside of the occasional visit from the slew of composers who scored the Harry Potter films, my novels’ proverbial film scores are almost exclusively done by Thomas Newman. If you recall the simultaneously melancholic and sweeping strains from American Beauty, the quirky rhythms and sonic palette of Pay it Forward, or even the more traditionally grand and operatic feel of Meet Joe Black, then you can probably see why his works fascinates me. And I haven’t even touched on his iconic contribution to The Shawshank Redemption, his underrated work in The Adjustment Bureau, or what I find to be his most effective, exquisite, emotionally complex work ever: Road to Perdition.
How much do I love Road to Perdition? In the entire first draft process of 10,000 Words, I never once listened to another film score, and what’s more, Newman’s work in this instance became so interwoven into the fabric of my writing experience that my lead character began referencing a particular track from this score as a way to relate to one aspect of a deeply personal and ongoing crisis she was having. I did not plan to do anything like this; it just happened, and the best part was that this little scene, this piece of internal monologue, became an essential moment in the story for both the reader and the character as she was pondering her worth and her place in the universe. Inserting this film score into the narrative, into her life, into her thoughts, was a natural extension of who she was and what she was going through. It made perfect sense.That is the effect that music can have on you and your writing process.
Now I’m not saying you have to listen to music while you write; God knows some people need absolute silence so they can concentrate, while some writers probably can’t get anywhere with their stories unless they have Nine Inch Nails’ “March of the Pigs” up so loud that the people in the next county can hear it. You have to do what works best for you. There is no one right way to go about the writing process. Having said that, however, don’t discount the possibility that the key to successfully writing a novel could be as close your movie collection, especially if you are a fan of Skyfall, Scent of a Woman, or The Green Mile.