Writing is my Music

Nothing inspires me to write more than music: the flow of a beat, the emotional charge in a rush of wordless energy, the power of sound.

Sometimes, I hear a song and I think of a scene; I watch my characters dance around their lives to the tune in my head. Sometimes, I actively search out songs for a particular novel. And sometimes, I have songs that embody everything I’m trying to say, simply by the way they make me feel — whether a passionate resolve, a far-reaching sorrow, or an unspoken questioning of life.

VLUU L110  / Samsung L110Sometimes, when I feel like I can’t write at all, if I’m overwhelmed by my story, I pick up my guitar and I play. I listen and concentrate and ponder, and then I see something I previously missed — a character’s unseen regret, a civilization’s tenacity to survive built on the foundations of its failures. Thinking in terms of music, I then write it out. Note after note until there is a wholeness — a rightness — to what I’m hearing. Word after word until there is some form of totality to what I’m feeling.

In some ways, I find that silence represents a blank page — the words unspoken. It’s hard to write into the silence; it’s hard when you don’t know if you’ll ever be heard. So, instead of staring at a blank page for hours, waiting on the right voice to come to me, I search for the song that best represents the mood of my story or my thoughts, and then I put it on repeat. Often for hours. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember.

My worlds have foundations in melodious composition; my characters are the notes in a song that extends far beyond the page. I’ve often said that I hear words as if they were put to music — that I’m not a visual writer, that I don’t see my characters in terms of appearances or a world in terms of concrete images.  No, my writing is grounded in abstractions. My thoughts are keystones for feelings composed of sound. I hear my characters in their worlds: the rush of their breaths against the winter sky, the whistling of wind through leaves, the rustle of the past, the voices of their memories.

My writing is an instrument that provides the pulse, the background — a guide into the images and stories of another dimension, another mind, another beating heart. I hear the rise and fall of syllables, the caress of sounds between two opposing but similarly bound words, the rhyme — the cadence — of a soft melody as it plays out across the page in a span of poetry.

Some people need images to gather their ideas, to ground them in reality. Some people see their worlds in vivid colors and landscapes; some people have all-encompassing imaginations that expand beyond all the senses entirely. But my writing is my music and I am my writing. And I’m writing what I feel, what I hear. I’m writing the music in my mind, the humming insistence: the song of words singing in a language I’ll never actually be able to say.

Do you guys write to music? How do you see your worlds or characters in your head? Are they concrete or abstract?

Note: The current queen of my musical muse (and one of my long-reigning musicians of choice) and inspiration behind this particular post is Sandy Denny. Sandy Denny and her haunting, powerful voice.  There’s just something intensely sad and hopeful in her work — a reflection, often, of how I feel about words.


12 thoughts on “Writing is my Music

  1. Pingback: Writing is my Music | The Sarcastic Muse
  2. The words you choose and the way that they effortlessly flow from one syllable to the next creates the equivalent of a musical masterpiece. I love the tone and depth of your message. It is soothing and energizing in the same breath. Wonderful post, thank you for sharing, and I look forward to many more. Best wishes for an inspired day 😉

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts! It’s hard to put it into words sometimes — what writing is to me. But I try my best every day to find the right words, regardless. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      And a big thanks for following my blog. I’ve just read some of your posts. You have such a gift for storytelling and seeing the poetry in the world. I look forward to reading more of your posts as well!

  3. Beautifully-written post, Michelle. You perfectly express the influence that music can have upon the writing process.

    I tend to gradually put together a ‘soundtrack’ for a particular work during the period that I’m writing it – a collection of music that seems, in some way, to be pertinent to it or that expresses something of its spirit. However, when it comes to actually sitting down and writing, it’s perfect silence for me. That’s the moment when all the music gets switched off!

    • Thank you for sharing your process (and for the kind words 🙂 )! I love the idea of having a soundtrack that ‘expresses the spirit’ of a work. Do you ever hear a song and think, ‘That is my story!’ or ‘That sounds like my character’? I can see how the collection you choose could still influence or inspire your writing — even if you don’t listen to the music when you’re doing the actual act of writing. Do you prefer silence because the music distracts you? I find that listening to music helps me tune out external distractions a bit better, but I can see the other side of it too — where it actually causes people to sing along, etc, thus making it harder for them to concentrate.

      • Yes – many a time I’ve heard a piece of music and thought, ‘Yes! That’s what it’s all about!’ It often tends to swirl around in the back of my mind while I’m writing – but I’m afraid that actual music just distracts me when I’m hammering away at the keyboard. I prefer to write in a state of near-sensory deprivation. I’ve even been known to use earplugs on occasion…

  4. I find that my relationship with music and writing is constantly shifting. Sometimes a piece of music will be just the inspiration I need to kick start a story, sometimes it’ll be a distraction that stops me finding the right words. I thought I needed music without lyrics – jazz, classical, electronica – to write to, because then other people’s words don’t clutter up my attempts to find my own. But recently I’ve realised that for some of my less exciting freelance stuff, writing that’s functional rather than poetic, energetic old-school rap helps set the tone to just pound words down onto the page.

    I suppose I’m finding that music always inspires, just not always in the way I expect.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I know exactly what you mean: some music helps invigorate the writing process. I remember listening to some upbeat pop-type song for a post-modernist paper in undergrad (not typically my music of choice for poetic writing). My hands were practically dancing across the keyboard, but it helped to keep me on task, so I can definitely relate. Great point, though. Music has a way of creeping into things, even in ways least expected.

    • I don’t know how I missed your comment! Thank you for your response though. 🙂 It’s good to meet other writers with similar approaches. I haven’t yet been organized enough to create playlists, but I spend a lot of time looking for the song that has the right feel to it!

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