I’ve heard that some writers  have specific music they always listen to while they write. I have yet to find one thing that always works (and sometimes I don’t like any music at all), but I have found that my own soundtrack can help create a bubble within which I can (a little) more easily focus and actually write.

Although, I have written projects that screamed for rock-&-roll, or shouted for soul, that hasn’t been the norm. In general, when I’m writing to music (or listening to music while writing), I’ve usually chosen albums/DCs/playlists that featured:

  • No vocals (at least not in a language I understand)
  • Limited and consistent sonic range (no wild shifts)

bottom-music-instrument-drum-ornament-specimenofcastor00caslrich_0347 copy 3I often found a groove that tonally fit the project and stuck with that throughout. At least I told myself it helped me keep some consistency in the writing.

Lately, I’ve been working on a big work of historical fiction, and had locked on to Bach keyboard music, specifically the French Suites & English Suites, preferably performed by Glenn Gould, although probably any by Bach for solo piano, played by anyone would work. Here’s what I loved about this music :

  • It’s incredibly beautiful
  • No vocals (if you don’t count Gould’s muttering)
  • Very narrow sonic range

Also, I don’t play the piano, but the physical movement of typing is a lot like playing a piano, which for me makes it both aspirational (I can imagine I’m playing the piano), and inspirational (I find myself actually trying to keep up).

It also had the benefit of being music that could have been heard during the historical period I’m writing about.

But, most important of all (I believe), the music has an incredibly insistent, almost irresistible, pulse. The tempo varies, but the pulse is always there, like a heartbeat. Bach’s pulse is so strong, I can feel it long after the music has stopped. It’s so strong, that I feel like it’s already going before I even turn the music on. That makes trying to write to it feel more like launching a boat into a river that’s already flowing, instead of into the ocean where the waves put up all kinds of resistance (I imagine). And anyone who’s ever written knows that you’re you’re always trying to get into – or stay in – the Flow.

Screen shot 2020-08-25 at 9.10.22 PMI kept most of my CDs over the years, and recently, after a long time without a CD player, I got a little boom box, and broke out a classic reggae album by Burning Spear called Garvey’s Ghost. I admit, it seems an unlikely soundtrack for a book about the American Revolution, and yet…

It has several of the qualities I listed above (with minimal vocals), plus the same kind of insistent, irresistible, eternal pulse that seems to help get me (and keep me) writing.

Also, it turns out the West Indies, including Jamaica, were actually vital during the Revolutionary period, so maybe somewhere deep in the music are echoes of that time too.

The only problem is that the cute little boombox that I just bought, suddenly started stopping abruptly, right in the middle of tracks! Or, it wouldn’t recognize the CD at all! An otherwise lovely-seeming simple little SONY, a company I’d relied on for years of audio equipment! Shameful. (DO NOT BUY the Portable Sony CD Player Boombox Digital Tuner AM/FM Radio Mega Bass Reflex Stereo Sound System)

But, I noticed, when the player stopped, the pulse didn’t, so I’m hoping maybe that means my project itself actually might have a pulse, and my clumsy midwifery hasn’t killed it (yet).

Meanwhile, if anyone can recommend a simple reliable CD-playing device (not a big honking component that requires external amps and speakers, just a little CD player), I’d appreciate it. I have a LOT of CDs I’ve been hauling around and it would be a shame if I couldn’t play any of them!