Music as The Muse

Ah! The Muse. That lovely, literary sprite who flutters helpfully around our shoulders, filling our eager, little minds with wonderful ideas and standalone characters, which appear out of the blue, in glorious, black ink!

Except, it doesn’t quite work that way, does it?

And, believe me, if it did, there would be a lot more people writing a lot more books; happily typing away while their muse cracks on with the hard stuff.

In between hectic working lives, running a home, catching up with Sky Atlantic’s latest drama – you know, all the regurgitative day-to-day necessity that means we’re not actually getting down to writing – as soon as we do take a seat in front of a blank page, unfortunately it’s not up to that tiny, creative sprite to carry us off into the realm of our fictional worlds. So, we take a seat, and wait for, well, something to happen. But it’s not happening…

The ticking of the clock becomes a little louder. That endless list of things we need to do grows a little longer. And the last thing we know how to do is jump back into the head space that means we’re clocking up a word count, instead of procrastinating over the colour of our leading man’s socks.

And that’s why God created headphones!

Now, I’m not suggesting you do this with every single scene and definitely not as you reach the editing stage, but heading home after a day at the office, straight back into the middle of a sizzling hot sex scene (Yippee!), a huge family argument (Hmm), or the ending to an intricate plot twist (Ouch!), became so much easier once I got into the habit of setting the scene to a soundtrack.

It’s a technique filmmakers use all the time to amplify effect, and a way in which writers can almost instantly switch concentration back to the terrain of their narratives.

I first discovered my musical muse when I was working on my debut novel, which focused on two very different protagonists. Switching between those two women became so much easier once I learnt to switch between playlists.

Writing about Jennifer – the far more grounded, and much more comedic sister, compared to the darker and deceptively glamorous Lara – was all about Roxy Music, David Bowie, an occasional sprinkling of The Charlatans, and lashings of Duran Duran for good measure, which was absolutely fine by me.

Those tracks flew me across the Atlantic. They took me home for Christmas. Got Jennifer through a break-up, and helped Lara back into her high heels. They also gave me great imagery: imagery that infused certain scenes with dialogue and incidental anecdotes I’d barely even thought about until they danced across my mind in technicolour sound.

Back at the laptop, wiring myself up to those old albums swept me through weekends, evenings, and up into those ridiculously early hours, when I appreciated a bit of company that wasn’t caffeinated.

Just as music holds our hands and pins itself to moments throughout our own lives, she makes a most devoted creative muse. She allows us the luxury of taking a break from our immediate surroundings. She can instantly transport us back into another era. Introduce our brainboxes to the inner workings of a new character. Shift speed when the writing needs to hit it up a notch, or dim the lights for something a little more poignant.

What’s coming from the radio in that new scene you finished? If your leading man’s mood was a song, whose track is he singing along to? What’s playing out from the car stereo as your leading lady begins her journey? What’s your character’s theme tune? And the biggie: What does your story sound like? That’s a question that can make your mind spin with invaluable information you never knew about your characters.

These are the kinds of questions that create far more vivid, fictional landscapes. Of course, this is not to say you need to share these details with your reader, but the knowing will eventually become part of the writing.

Striking the right rhythm makes sense as you’re shifting through emotional gears. And as you chart each stage of your novel, it can carry your characters’ thoughts, words and actions, right where you need them to be: sounding across the white noise of an empty page.

Tuning out from your surroundings, you instantly occupy a blank space to think. It re-energizes your imagination, heightens the senses, and focuses your attention back to the machinations of your literary landscape. Similarly, in those early, and sometimes, not so early stages, when you’re attempting to iron out initial thoughts, vandalising yet another notebook with scrawl that increasingly resembles mind graffiti, music introduces a welcome distraction. It can get you raring to go when the last thing you’re feeling is inspired.

There’s a tremendous amount of discussion on the actual act of writing, but it’s those initial thoughts, those sparky, unshakeable ideas, that get us honing our plotlines onto a page in the first place. Create the right kind of atmosphere, find the right rhythm, and those ideas will ignite quicker than you can fire that mysterious and sadly non-existent muse you’ve been waiting for your whole life.

(c) Patricia Caliskan

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