Guest post by Mark Cunningham
Music is one of those things that writers have to decide. It’s kind of like Beatles or Stones. I am a music guy, that’s all there is to it. For the record I am listening to a very tasty Phish soundboard as I type.Now, a lot of those who don’t write to music choose silence to limit distractions. Where do they write? I can’t help but wonder. Silence is something I do when I’m sleeping, both by nature and circumstances. If I am looking to check into writer land, nothing does the trick virtually instantaneously like tunes.
I suggest to those who choose whatever silence they have the opportunity to obtain over music, that perhaps they simply have not found the right kind. Music, like love and beverage, has all sorts of textures and flavors. There is a certain type of music that is good for writing, although it is clearly different for each individual.
For me, music skims the story, like a rock going across the water. It’s there, keeping pace in between skips, but it lands now and then, making a point. When it is clicking, my fingers are jamming with the music, laying down words directly from my muse. Again, I heartily recommend it. You just have to find the right skimming music for you.
The first thing about skimming music, is that it shouldn’t be the main event. Skimming music needs to be able to assume a backseat when required. This typically suggests music that is more instrumental than lyrical. I love Dylan, but when I am writing, Visions of Johanna has a chance of getting in the way, as it’s mostly landing. The same thing goes for Frank Zappa, unless he is just playing guitar, in which case he keeps it very airborne.
My personal preferences are jam bands and jazz. Both are ideal for putting on headphones and skimming. Both employ typically longish pieces and both are liberal with time changes to keep it interesting. I find myself losing myself in my fingers as a good jam goes on. Usually, a lot gets written. Classical music is also perfect for skimming. It flows and has very nice transitions. Mozart, Bach and Schubert have always worked well for me. I also wrote a lot of a short story on a train once to Carmen. I have found that no matter the flavor of the music, when the texture is live, it seems to work better for skimming. Live performances seem to promote spontaneity and improvisation.
One final note on skimming, I suggest it for writing, not reading. When you are ready to read what you have written, especially during a long skim, it’s time to turn the music off.
Mark Cunningham is a US-based writer and sometime collaborator with Waxings. This extract is from a series of posts on a music-related writing exercise he calls ‘Over the Wall’. Read more about the exercise and Mark’s other projects at his blog, The Wombat Returns.