How Writers Write – Soundtracks For Novels In Progress

So, my oldest daughter and I were crashed out on the couch the other night soaking up an extend dose of girl time. We’d picked Pitch Perfect because, well, the singing thing. karaoke.jpg

We sing.

In our house.

A lot.

The singing, music, dance party thing is so prevalent that we’ve actually had to set up sing-o-clock.

No singing before 10 a.m.

No singing after 7 p.m.

It’s a protective measure, really. We treasure our neighbours upstairs and downstairs. They must be saved from constant bombardment of the wide range of vocal skills and musical tastes in our 1,000-square-feet of living space.

Back to the movie: You know that moment when Jesse and Beca are sitting on the quad and he’s jonzing to give her a movie-cation? He wants to score movies. She needs to get him. They love the same thing, but she’s throwing up big walls. Great moment. My kid and I both love it – because we get the power of music to take a scene from emotional to epic. We totally get Jesse.

So, she turns to me and says, “Mom, you sort of do that too.”

“Do what?”

“Make soundtracks – like the ones you have for your books.”

She’s not wrong.

I’m not suggesting I am busting out any Hans Zimmer-quality film scores. More like surfing unholy amounts of amazing music, then spending a whole lot of time with my Bluetooth headphones glued to my ears trying to make myself feel the necessary level of pain, angst, sadness, lust, fury and/or wonder. notepad-headphones.jpg

Making soundtracks for novels in progress isn’t something I invented. I have a whole crew of writer pals who troll each other’s Spotify playlists to jack themselves into a certain mental state. Literary greats like Neil Gaiman use them all the time. Reading novels with a soundtrack in the background is a real thing.

There’s no right or wrong way to make them either. But, here’s how I do it.

I spend six to eight hours a day writing right now. My preferred mode is to not actually have any opportunity to be interrupted by the world during that time. So, headphones are on, music cranked.

I’m not a particularly linear writer, flipping between chapters as characters fill in the blanks for me. Some days I just can’t start where I left off the day before. Each chapter, depending on where I am in a certain character’s arch or the overall story arch, gets a full range of music to go with it that I can switch to without having to hunt songs down.

I used to use YouTube and found that lots of the videos I slotted into playlists got deleted. Tried Soundcloud, not enough easily accessed content for me. So, I ended up over at Spotify (click the link and you can see what I’m listening to right now).

If you go into my playlists, you’ll see that I break all of that noisy creative juice down into chapters.

Chapter 18 (final chapter of the book) is a weird, emotional mix that goes with the heartbreak and duty that make up the central focus of it.

Chapter 16 (the final battle) plugs me into a haunting state as Hypatia is forced into massive sacrifice. It’s grim.

Chapter 12 (where I am right now in terms of the major focus of the re-write) is pretty much a record of the internal world of Hypatia, forced to release herself from her former duty as the killer of killers.

I admit I’m a bit of a junkie when it comes to music whether I’m writing or not. Right now I’ve got a serious jonze for FKA twigs, Banks, dvsn Bishop Briggs, and SG Lewis.  They get mixed in for satisfying mental breaks or because, well, they get me all the way to where I need to be.

Jesse from Pitch Perfect wasn’t wrong when he said soundtracks “bring people to tears, blow their minds,” – even if you are just blowing your own mind with your own soundtrack writing that novel.

Now go make some music mashups and get writing!

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