The Perfect Playlist

Monday, August 06, 2018
A few months ago, after discussing surrealism in art and literature, I had my students write poems to a fictional character using as many illogical juxtapositions as possible to give the poem a real, surrealist flavor.

I can save surrealist literature for another blog post, but the real point here is that they were struggling to harness their inner abstract. For inspiration, I found some surrealist music and played it for them. The room went quiet. Some of their faces became serious; others found themselves lost in thought. A few immediately got to work, and a few others told me they were creeped out (if you've never heard surrealist music before, give it a try and you'll understand why).  But they were all impacted by this music. It put them in the right mood.

For me, music is a crucial element in my writing. Sometimes it's a new song.  Other times it's an old favorite.  Either way, the intensity sparks creativity within me, be it a new idea, a new character, or an unexpected plot twist. I can feel the music inside the same way I feel my characters – ingrained, deep within.

I create a playlist for each of my books, . There’s a common theme among my choices, and it’s in keeping with the mood and tone of my novel. Sometimes I link a song to an event in the book, and I will listen to it over and over again while I write that portion of the novel. Other times, the song fits universally with my work in progress, so it enters the general playlist. But the music keeps me in line – it creates the proper mood that I’m going for – and listening to the music sets me in the right place when I pick up where I left off.

I’ll go ahead a provide a shameless plug for Pandora (they are NOT paying me to do this). I put in a song which has inspired me to write my current work in progress and, inevitably, more songs will pop up on the playlist that continue to influence my writing. Music incites emotion within me, which positively impacts my writing. A sad scene requires sad music. Exciting scenes need something more emotional. But believe me when I tell you – it works.  Having a common theme is key.  Currently, I'm obsessed with Amber Run Radio on Pandora.  If you're writing a book where your characters are struggling to make a life in the woods, it's a perfect fit.

My current novel is set in a grim future, where my heroine is fighting for survival. The playlist is below. Feel free to let these songs spark inspiration in your writing as well.

Blackbird Song by Lee DeWyze
Where’s My Love by SYML
The Yawning Grave by Lord Huron
The Lament of Eustace Scrubb by The Oh Hellos
I Gave It All by Aquilo
Circles by EDEN
Dear Wormwood by The Oh Hellos
Strange and Beautiful by Aqualung
Evolve by Phoria
The Moth by Manchester Orchestra

And, of course, I’d love to hear which songs are inspiring you. Please share your favorites in the comments!

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.


Margo Dill said...

I have heard of a lot of writers that do this. And their playlist changes depending on what they are working on. I have never been a music listener when I write. I either need silence, outdoor nature sounds, OR I can do it in a busy coffee shop where there is just noise. I always find it so interesting how writers work. Best of luck with your WIP.

Monica Sackman said...

I have never been able to listen to music when I am writing. I find it too distracting. But I haven't tried creating a playlist specific to my story. I could see how it might be beneficial.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I haven't heard of surrealist music, but I'm a surrealist painter, so maybe I'd like surrealist music? I don't listen to music too much while writing, but occasionally I'll listen to Goa psytrance or deep house techno. I recently listened to an interview with Chelsea Hodson on the Otherppl podcast, and she said she listened to the soundtrack to "Under the Skin" hundreds of times so she could create prose that mirrored the way the music sounded. I thought it was an creative idea worth trying! I've heard a lot of writers have success with it, and I'm glad you are, Beth! I'm pulling up your songs on Spotify right now! :)

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