7.20.2014

Finding Your Muse in the Music

Franz Ignaz Günther
The Muse Clio Writing History 

Writing is a solitary pursuit that can leave you drained, both emotionally and physically. If you write for any length of time you develop tools out of necessity to combat stress and rejuvenate. I call it filling up the well. In addition to focusing on a healthy diet, regular exercise, and herbal medicine, I like to use music to inspire my creative muse and to help balance my mood. I asked other authors if they did the same, and how it affected their writing. If you've never thought about using music as both inspiration and auditory drug, you might find this article helpful. You can click the READ MORE HERE link, below, to read the entire article here on the blog, or read it on my web site. Happy writing, and muse hunting!


It's 11:30 p.m. and you've been staring at a blank page on your notebook screen--or legal pad or Alphasmart--for what feels like an eternity. You're dying to get that next scene written, but nothing is coming.
It's ironic. After a demanding day of work and family obligations, taxing interruptions, and a flood of email needing your attention, finally, you have that precious block of time to spend with the art you love, the art that drives you: writing! But, disaster strikes. Your mind is blank and so is your page. "Is it writer's block?" you wonder. It can't be. You know your characters better than you know yourself, your plot is ironclad, and you aren't lacking in enthusiasm.
You groan in frustration and your stress level peaks as you tally up your frozen word count and compare it to your swiftly approaching deadline.
Not willing to give up--what writer is?--you try everything you can think of to get those creative juices flowing. You do some writing exercises, edit the last pages you wrote, try some visualization and free writing, run through breathing techniques to calm your mind, and when those fail, you pull out all the stops and raid the emergency chocolate! And then... nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. You realize your muse has deserted you for parts unknown.
Or has she? What if your muse is just temporarily on strike? Sulking. Burned out. Feeling neglected. Used and abused. If that's the case, she'll be the last one to tell you.
Your muse is a noble creature. Egotistical too. She'd never lower herself to jumping up and down, tantrum-fashion, in an attempt to get your attention. Knowing her worth, she silently withdraws, sulks, and waits for you to notice she's gone--and how very much she's needed!
So, after all the desperate attempts to jump-start your writing, and with your head buzzing euphorically from a chocolate overdose, it's well past midnight. Despite the fact that you've pinpointed the problem, you're still back where you started. How do you feed that deep well of creativity, that flighty unearthly creature you've been ignoring and coax her into coming out to play again? And how do you do that without falling further behind in your deadline and without sacrificing your minimum sleep quota as its own deadline is fast approaching?
When all else fails, I use music to entice my muse and quash my internal editor. In fact, I've learned to try music first before anything else. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says the root of the word "music" comes "from the Greek word "mousike" -- any art presided over by the Muses. Hmmm... The Muses represent inspiration, emotion. And whether the art is writing or music, both strive to communicate emotion to the reader or listener.
Now, when I suggest using music, I'm not referring to the background hum of a radio, although many authors say radio or background music helps them tune out distractions and increase their focus. However, in the case of an exhausted or sulking muse, a more drastic approach might be indicated to enliven her or placate her into coming back on the scene. An intentional use of music to fit the characters, theme, or mood might be just the peace offering to shake your sullen muse from her pout. Perhaps the scene you want to write has your pirate hero saving the heroine from the clutches of the villain? Try putting on the rousing soundtrack of Disney's film Pirates of the Caribbean. Close your eyes and relax, go with it, and just allow yourself to sink into your book as if it were a movie. Give this a try with a favorite piece and see what happens.
Maybe your heroine is an Irish lass who finds herself married against her wishes to a Scottish laird? Try something Celtic: Clannad or Enya perhaps?
Are you having trouble writing a love scene? Try selecting a particular song to get you in the mood. A favorite of mine is the hauntingly beautiful Council of Elrond from the New Line film Fellowship of the Ring--a song heard during the unforgettably romantic Rivendell bridge scene, which affords us a deeper glimpse into the enduring love of Arwen and Aragorn. If I'm in the mood for romantic music with English lyrics, I might try a piece like Celine Dion's Falling into You or Janet Jackson's erotically charged That's the Way Love Goes.
You might also try listening to soundtracks that fit a particular mood or scene. Author Cheyenne McCray (Vampires Dead Ahead) says, "The Mists of Avalon and Anna and the King are great soundtracks for writing love scenes to, and Gladiator and The Mummy are terrific for fight scenes."
You might wonder how music can be used to inspire your muse if you write across multiple genres. Prolific author Jennifer Ashley (BodyGuard), who also writes as Ashley Gardner and Allyson James, does just that. "I do fit the music to the time period or setting or character. When I wrote fantasy, I'd play medieval chant or Renaissance music. For the eighteenth century, harpsichord music, and symphonies for the Regency. I also play music a particular character might like--my hero might like country music full blast, or be a bad-boy who likes screaming guitars."
If you've never tried this approach, it might seem a little extreme. Yet I discovered that many successful authors love writing to music. In fact, I found that authors often use music in inventive and surprising ways. Roz Denney Fox (Linked by Love) says, "When I worked full time and wrote in the witching hours of midnight to three am, I developed a habit of writing to music. When I finished at three and wanted to sleep until five or six, I shut the music off. That night I'd turn it on at the same place and it was easier to start up my work again exactly where I stopped. It was as if the music dropped me right back into the scene I'd left." I suspect that most of us couldn't survive on as little sleep as Roz did in those early years. Nevertheless, her method gave her writer's mind, and her muse, the cue needed to flow out onto her pages. Many books later, the prolific Fox no longer works a day job in addition to writing; and her methods, too, have changed. Yet music still plays a primary role. "Now I like rousing, upbeat music to listen to when I write. I try to keep tempo with the typing and the music."
Mackenzie McKade (Blue Moon), often prefers quiet these days, but also admits "...music ups the emotion. If there is a certain emotion I'm trying to convey I will use music that will help me get into that mood." Similarly, Denise Agnew (For a Roman's Heart) has always used music to write. "Music is like a movie soundtrack for whatever I'm trying to write. If I don't have music, I can create, but it may or may not have quite the intensity I'm looking for."
NYT bestseller Neil Gaiman (American Gods) wrote in his blog, "Given the choice, I want something with a faintly interesting beat, and I like songs with lyrics. The first time I ever realized that other people weren't like me was in conversation with Clive Barker, about fifteen years ago, when he mentioned that he had to have music, but couldn't have anything with words..."
Many writers do seem divided on the issue of lyrics. Some authors, like Larry Hammer (The First Heroes), use music more as a white-noise screen, and can find lyrics distracting when working on specific types of writing. In the case of poetry, he says, "I cannot listen to singing in English...I'll listen to classical, or lounge/trance, or non-English singing." Roz Fox's take is more neutral. "It doesn't matter to me if there are words as long as I really like the songs."
For some, it's how well they know a piece that can be the determining factor. YA and fantasy author Janni Lee Simner (Bones of Faery) says, "Often, I'll use music I know so well it slips into the background--and play the same thing over and over."
Not surprisingly, writers aren't the only artists who use music to coax their muse into cooperation. Brian Beigel, a Massachusetts-based painter who specializes in landscapes, says music helps transport him into the canvas he's working on. "With free time at an all time low, that transition needs to be a speedy one. I start the painting listening to music, but often pull my headphones off when the music finishes and listen to nature's sounds around me. My favorite music is nature."
No matter how you might use music, authors Sherrill Quinn (Dragons Unleashed) and Jordan Summers (Hot Shot) both said it best, "Do what works for you."
To the practical side of how we access our music in a way that inspires us, there is no shortage of options. We're in a technological age of many choices from the old familiar of stereos and radios, to computers, MP3's, handhelds, and cell phones. Using technology to its fullest potential, you might consider creating "playlists" for different characters, manuscripts, or moods--something I love to do on my iPod. Don't have an MP3 player? No worries. Try copying some of your favorite tracks onto your computer or laptop, and then group them using a software tool such as RealPlayer or iTunes. Not computer savvy? There are still good options. Before all this portable sophistication became available, I would program my CD changer to play specific tracks in a certain order, depending on what I was writing.
No matter the device, the next time your muse goes MIA, look for her in your favorite music. Better yet, preempt her departure altogether and get those tunes playing! Let the storytelling muse inside you glide along with the melody. Let her soul dance to the beat! Experiment! You might be surprised how long your emergency chocolate stash holds out.

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