When I hear music that inspires me, I often place that energy into my creative writing. My July workshop, Music and Writing, explores using music as writing prompts.
Music functions well as writing prompts for a variety of reasons. What’s most unique and beneficial to your creative writing projects is your differing perspective/emotional response to the sound of the music. The result of that perspective can shape a new project or add something subtle or drastic to an existing project that either seemed a little dim or like it was missing something.
Listening to music has always assisted me with my writing process. Sometimes I lie on the floor at home and listen to music, song after song. If a particular melody resonates with me, I’ll replay a song several times. It may be for the sake of creating relaxation/tension—or if I’m already in a state of “ready to write”, maybe the song I replay reminds me of a person, a place I want to go to, or a version of myself from the past. And at times, it’s when the song ends that inspiration is found—inside of that quiet space, following the ending of the melody where my ideas flood in, or that “aha" moment happens where I know just what I want to jot down fresh, or explore further in an existing project.
Music triggers an emotional response and, of course, the tempo or genre (layered with the mood you’re already in) can produce fresh ideas or reaffirm that you’re on the right track with an existing project (such as the setting of your story, or the slang used in your dialogue among characters).
Personally, I use ambient or instrumental tracks, such as Santo & Johnny’s Sleep Walk for prompts:
There are various takeaways from listening to a track like this. You can listen to the song, without any other action than to simply listen and allow yourself to feel the melody. After the song ends, allow yourself a moment of silence, and see if the creative energy flows outward onto paper or screen.
Another way to approach this song is to play it, and while it plays, invent a scene that is happening—imagine a specific character, a specific place, an era—or produce a total freewrite. A common rule of thumb in creating visual art is to step backwards and rest your eyes from a project—then come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes and then you may see what tweaks you want to make. Don’t place pressure on yourself to produce. Let it flow.
Using music that includes lyrics as a prompt functions well too—though then we are introducing “layers”, where it’s not only the melody that induces a response—but the lyrics isolated (or the combined auditory delivery of both lyric and melody) is what gets your creative juices flowing. This preference is personal to you and your experiment.
What’s also beneficial with writing to music is that in the case you aren’t sure how to tweak the setting or another literary device present in your existing project, play a song from the time period your story is rooted in.
Disclaimer: Most of the time music gives me additional focus and inspiration for creative writing projects. Other times, a melody or beat makes me want to get up and dance, or finally put away the dishes and vacuum.
Since this process is personal to your perception, voice and your stories (in any genre), it is up to you to choose the music that either soothes or agitates you. You’ll get the hang of it once you try a song or two on your own. Don’t be afraid to take risks—experiment. For example, you may not like listening to heavy metal music on a regular basis, but if you’re stuck on a scene whose intention is to be intense, a heavy metal song may be just what you need to get you in the mood to strike hard and develop the sense/place/characters further. Experiment and keep it fun.
Simply put, sometimes music gets you in the mood to write. Sometimes you need a little added relaxation to open the floodgates, such as listening to soft music. Or alternately, you may benefit from the tension created while listening to heavy metal or fast-paced music.
I’m not suggesting that you make yourself cry while writing love poems to sad songs, though I’ve done that before too—can’t lie.
In other words, your mood could elevate or plummet just by hearing a song that resonates with you—inspiring fresh ideas for old and new projects. Taking advantage of that stimulation and riding that wave of inspiration is one of my methods for using music with writing. You may find it helps you too.
Andreana Binder loves art of all forms and is passionate about sharing ideas and exploring the creative process. Andreana is a technical writer with a background in private tutoring, and teaching English courses at Lone Star College and Houston Community College. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University-Los Angeles, where she gained experienced co-creating, operating and editing the online literary journal, The Sylvan Echo. Her poetry will be published in the Writespace anthology Our Space, currently available in ebook and paperback formats as a perk for donating to our First Birthday Indiegogo Fundraiser. To learn more about her, visit her Writespace faculty page. She is teaching the upcoming workshop, Music and Writing, on July 15th. To sign up, click here.