Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Music and Writing: Does Your Story Have a Soundtrack?

Music in Our Schools Month logo
In honor of this being Music in our Schools Month here in the U.S., we TeachingAuthors are doing a series on the connections between music and writing/reading. If you're a teacher, check out the Writing Workout below for links to lesson plans on creating playlists for classroom literature. And for more information about Music in our Schools Month 2011, see the official website.

Reading Mary Ann's post kicking off the series on Monday, I could definitely relate to what she said about writing with music playing in the background. At this moment, Pachelbel's Canon in D Major is playing on my computer. I first started writing with music years ago to drown out the television and other sounds coming from my family. When I'm actively writing, the music has to be instrumental--lyrics distract me from the words forming in my head. I used to load my CD player with a collection of classical albums that included Music for the Mozart Effect and Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Nowadays, I play the music directly on my computer via the "radio stations" I've set up at (Pandora is a convenient way to create a quick playlist that "matches" a specific song or type of music.) Like Mary Ann, when working on historical fiction, I listen to music from the era in which my story is set. That means that lately I've been hearing lots of 17th and 18th century pieces featuring the harpsichord and violins. Such music is especially appropriate as the main character of my young adult novel-in-progress plays the harpsichord and her love interest is a violinist.

I've noticed that some authors are now sharing their personal playlists with their readers. For example, on Kathryn Erskine's website, you can click on the titles of the songs she listened to while writing Mockingbird, winner of the 2010 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Young adult author Rachel Cohn has even created iMixes of her playlists on the iTunes Music Store. These playlists can be a great way to connect with young readers, especially teens. Teen (and adult) readers can also find playlists on sites like Novel Novice, which often includes playlists for the young adult novels highlighted there, such as Elizabeth Eulberg's Prom and Prejudice.

I know that listening to music while writing isn't for everyone. Years ago, the topic came up on a discussion board for children's writers, agents, and editors. I still remember a comment by a famous children's author who scoffed at the idea of background music, saying it interferes with hearing the rhythm of our writing. For me, that's only an issue when I'm working on a late draft of a project. That's when I turn the music off and read the work out loud. Most of the time, at least for me, the music doesn't interfere with my work. In fact, I think it has the opposite effect by helping me concentrate. Turning on my music has become part of my preparatory ritual, signaling my creative mind that "it's time to write."

How about you? Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what kind? Have you ever created a playlist for a writing project? If not, see the Writing Workout below.

Blog update: In case you haven't noticed, or you receive our posts via email, we've added a new page to our blog: "Markets for Young Writers." The link is at the top of our home page, just below the logo. The new page features links to information and markets for young writers. As far as we know, this is the largest roundup of sites open to submissions from young writers. (If you know of a larger list, please tell us!) We encourage you to share the page with any young writers (or teachers of young writers) who may be interested. Also, if you know of sites we missed, please post that information in a comment. We plan to update the page regularly, so do check back.  

Writing Workout:
Creating a Story Soundtrack

If you're a writer: create a soundtrack for your current writing project. Consider the following:
  • What songs might reflect or reinforce the mood you're trying to create in a specific scene or chapter?
  • Are there songs that mirror some aspects of your main character's situation or personality? 
  • Are any songs mentioned by the characters in the story, or that are specifically suited to the story's setting?  
  • If your project were turned into a movie, what would be on the soundtrack?
If you're a teacher, have your students create a soundtrack for a book they've read. For a detailed lesson plan, see "On a Musical Note: Exploring Reading Strategies by Creating a Soundtrack." Or take a look at this lesson plan: Creating a Playlist for a Novel.

Happy Writing (and Listening)!


Bruce Frost said...

I have created a few playlists both on my computer and Pandora, not all of classical or music-only scores. I love Symphonie Fantastique, by Berlioz, as well as movie scores for Michael Nyman, Craigh Armstrong, Danny Elfman, etc. In fact, I have one Pandora playlist that plays music from all of these composers. But for certain emotional stories and/or scenes, I listen to groups from my teens and twenties, like the Cure. Then, one in a while, some good traditional Irish music fits pefectly.

I also play some of these in my fourth-grade classroom.

Thanks for the great article!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing the music selections, Bruce. It never occurred to me to create a Pandora station of movie scores. I have one now!