I was talking with my grandma the other day, and the topic swung around to my newest WIP, which I’ve affectionately dubbed “Beauty and the Beast and Aliens.”
“How did you ever think of that?” she asked me.
I took a second. “Well, I don’t know… Music helps with brainstorming ideas, I guess?”
Here’s the reality of things: as with my other books, I don’t really remember the exact seed for this story. A little bit of this and a little bit of that rattle around and around in my brain, sometimes for years at a time. Somewhere down the line they twine themselves together and poof, there’s your book idea. However, music continues to play an integral part in informing the way I want my books to go, and since I think I might use music in a slightly unusual way as a writer, I thought I’d set my “process” down on paper to hopefully be of help to somebody else.
The first way I use music is by letting the mood of several songs lull me into a meditative, imaginative state. For example, in the aliens book, I know that storytelling and travel are going to feature heavily, so I’ve been listening to a lot of songs like “Another New World” by Punch Brothers/Josh Ritter and “Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers. But I’m not really listening to these sorts of songs while I’m writing, but rather when I’m doing other, mindless tasks like driving, walking the dog, etc. I find that this practice allows my creative brain to chew on the song in the background and every so often spit out new ideas for my WIP.
The next way I use music is a bit complicated; I listen to music that reminds me of other books that I want my book to feel like. Here’s an example: when I was in middle school, I became obsessed with the Chinese singer Faye Wong and the book Sunshine by Robin McKinley at the same time. (Both of which I still adore, by the way.) I have distinct memories of spending a Christmas vacation curled up in an armchair in my grandparents’ living room, devouring Sunshine as I listened to a Faye Wong CD over and over again. So in my mind, that book and Faye Wong, and especially the song “再见萤火虫/Goodbye, Firefly”, are forever linked. That’s step one.
Now, for a couple different reasons, I want my alien book to have a similar feel to Sunshine, even though the actual stories are pretty dissimilar. Therefore, I’ve been using “再见萤火虫/Goodbye, Firefly” and another Faye Wong song to enter a state of mind where I feel what I felt reading Sunshine that first time. Doing so has allowed me to more easily craft my WIP with the specific tone of voice I’m looking for—a bit older, a bit more stream of consciousness, a bit more something that gets me closer to the story I want to tell.
The last way I use music is a bit more typical for writers, I believe—I listen to music similar to the mood of each scene while I’m writing that scene. Most of the time this music has no words, so that’s where you see orchestral pieces and soundtracks creep into my playlists. So this is where my playlists become a bit like a book soundtrack; you can very roughly map out the changing mood of the book with the playlist.
So if you’re interested to see how all this music ends up coming together into one confusing playlist monstrosity, take a look at my Spotify book playlists—I have one for each of my published works, and a private playlist is already in-the-works for the aliens book. I really hope this is helpful for other writers out there who might need help with brainstorming or inspiration!
A small aside—if you haven’t seen the book trailer for Specter yet, check it out! Specter debuts July 7th (just one month away!!!!!), and is available for preorder at all major retailers.