The Surprise Lurking in My Playlist

IPod Nano

IPod Nano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve talked about the different forms of inspiration before (and it applies to me specifically as a writer, but I’m sure it applies to other forms of art as well), and today I especially want to focus on music.

I’m a musical person from a musical family (read more about that here and here), but it wasn’t until this past week that I was reminded again of how much it can influence my writing.

Back when I used to have a fantastical picture of what a full-time writing life would look like, I figured that my house would come equipped with a separate office just for me and all my journals and manuscripts, a computer dedicated to my writing, and of course a custom sound system, through which I could pipe Metallica while I wrote. Yes, Metallica.

I was thrilled one day when I read that Stephen King, my favorite American author at that time, listened to Metallica (among other groups) while he wrote. Of course, I thought that this was prophetic and pointed to the life that I would surely lead.

Fast forward twelve or thirteen years, and there’s no separate office. I type with my MacBook in my lap while my kids watch Disney and vie for my attention. So this certainly doesn’t allow me the seclusion necessary to listen to whatever I want at any volume.

I still do like Metallica, though, so that’s something.

Still, when I write, it’s not in the environment that I figured was conducive to creating brilliance. I’ve learned to adapt, and I actually embrace writing in the midst of chaos, but there are those times that I realize there’s something to at least a part of that idealistic setting – the music.

Years ago, while I was in the thick of writing one of the books in my middle grade series, I was driving along, listening to just another song on the latest CD my husband and I had bought. I did not at all expect the scene that suddenly popped into my head, evoked by that particular song.

Part of it had to do with the lyrics, which described what happened in the scene, but there’s also something about the tune. That combination brought this scene fully-formed into my mind. I saw one of my characters going through something that wrenched my heart. I didn’t want it to happen to him. I fought it with all my might, but every time I heard the song, the scene returned. My conclusion: it belonged in my book.

Now, there are other songs that I like because they energize me or put me in a calm mood for a scene that needs a little more finesse. But I can never predict when a song will give me a missing piece of my story puzzle.

It happened again this week. I was driving along, listening to the playlist that my husband put together for me, so it has a quite a few songs that I never would have thought to pick for myself. I suppose that’s why it was so unexpected.

Instead of the music just washing over me, as it had with the last few songs I’d listened to, I suddenly started listening to the lyrics, and the words immediately created a new scene, one I certainly never considered when I formed the loose plot of my series.

This is why I think it’s so important to allow myself freedom within my plot. Sure, I have a rough outline, since I do need to make sure that I introduce important clues at the right time and have a general idea of where the story is going. But I was surprised that, yet again, a key character was facing something unexpected, something I don’t think I ever would have come up with on my own.

Thank you, song, for both disturbing me and enriching my story. It actually kept me up for about an hour-and-a-half that night, as I tried to figure out where my story was going. And I realized that it made perfect sense; it allowed another of my characters to realize her full potential in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if I’d gone according to plan.

Have you experienced any storyline surprises, inspired by something that you thought was completely unrelated? You just never know when it will happen or what will bring it on, but I think that writers live for those moments.

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4 thoughts on “The Surprise Lurking in My Playlist

  1. releaf1954 says:

    Metallica? That is a bit of a surprise. I think I need to get more music into my ears when I’m trying to create. I cling to silence, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about giving music a chance to inspire me. Yes, I believe I will give it a try. Music, that is; not Metallica.

    • Ha ha! My musical taste is all over the map. You’d be surprised to see my playlist. I did add Bohemian Rhapsody. Not because I think it’s going to inspire anything, but come on, it’s the Bohemian Rhapsody. 🙂

  2. […] I overlook visual stimuli because I just don’t have time to browse. I can listen to music while driving or be struck by random brainwaves any old time. Slowing down and taking the time to […]

  3. […] it’s the “aha!” moment I’ve been waiting for. Other times (like what I posted about most recently), a novel almost gets derailed by a new scene that I never would have imagined, […]

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