Writing to Music

Like a lot of authors, I write to music, choosing specific songs and styles that help get me into a certain frame of mind. This music is different for every book I write, ranging anywhere from a single song to a full playlist or Pandora station (usually based on one or two specific seed songs). This music defines, in part, how I feel about the books, and how I want the reader to feel about the books. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and what, if anything, these song choices mean, so I thought I’d share some of these soundtrack tidbits with you. If you’re interested, you can listen to the exact playlists on Pandora.

I Am Not a Serial Killer:
Everlong (acoustic), by the Foo Fighters
Mad World, the Gary Jules version

Mr. Monster (Book 2 in the Serial Killer trilogy):
Tear You Apart, by She Wants Revenge
Tear You Apart Radio

Full of Holes (Book 3 in the Serial Killer trilogy):
No specific song, though I kept trying to find one. I don’t know why no specific song was able to define this book for me, especially considering how powerfully the first two were connected to very specific songs, but there you go. Instead I listened to a wide spectrum of stuff including Tear You Apart Radio, Cherub Rock Radio, Chick Rock Radio, and all three albums of the Silversun Pickups.

A Night of Blacker Darkness (a Victorian horror/comedy that my agent is currently shopping around):
Chamber Music Radio
It’s worth pointing out that this style of music is anachronistic to the Victorian period in a lot of cases. It just worked in my head and got me in the right mood.

Strawberry Fields (The schizophrenia book I just finished. It’s waiting for a revision while I work on something else):
This book was written almost exclusively to a soundtrack of Radiohead–I just made a playlist with every album they have and shuffled them all together. The main song that sticks out, in terms of its relation to the book, is “Sit Down. Stand Up.” from Hail to the Thief. It’s a very strange book.

Makeover (the wacky mystery project I’m currently working on):
Sabotage, by the Beastie Boys
Pepper, by the Butthole Surfers
Sabotage Radio
I don’t know why Makeover is so well-suited to 90′s hybrid rock, but it works.

If you’ve read I Am Not a Serial Killer (or if you’re one of my alpha readers who’s read some of the others), give this music a listen and tell me what you think. Does it fit? Does it define it as well for you as it does for me? Does it change the way you think about the books? I find this kind of stuff fascinating.

11 Responses to “Writing to Music”

  1. Steve D says:

    I see the acoustic Everlong feel in the writing. But then again, maybe I just really like the Foo Fighters…

    I don’t see Cherub Rock in Full of Holes though. Doesn’t seem moody enough to fit the novel. But that’s just me.

  2. Steve D says:

    In fact, I would say that Full of Holes feels more like Nine Inch Nails or Industrial music of that nature.

  3. admin says:

    You’re absolutely right, Steve: Full of Holes doesn’t really feel like any of the songs listed with it. It does have a specific feel, though, I just never was able to attach a song to it. I was just already really familiar with the world and characters by that point, I guess, so I didn’t need a song to codify anything for me. I would be interested to hear suggestions of what songs would fit it, and I like the idea of Industrial/Goth. Maybe My Chemical Romance? I don’t know.

    The Chick Rock station, by the way, was created to give me a sense of what kind of music John Cleaver listens to. Very indie/punk/grrl kind of stuff, lots of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, not really any emo or goth stuff (which would be too on-the-nose for John). No male singers at all.

  4. Sam says:

    Yes, Everlong matches the feel of Serial Killer quite well. Can’t wait to get my hands on the other books…

  5. Arlene says:

    I think its interesting that so many writers use music like this. Maybe my life is already too full of sound, but I can never write to actual music playing in my ear. It’s too distracting.

  6. Lauren says:

    Hi – I just went out and bought ‘I am not a serial killer’ and read the whole thing last night – and absolutely LOVED IT!! So I jumped online to find out more!

    I’m from Australia (g’day from down under!) and just finished uni to become an English teacher, so I just love YA fiction and horror and sci-fi stuff (and heaps more too). Then I searched more about the novel and found this site. I found your blogs Dan so incredibly interesting and insightful to read. Reading about your planning and writing processes is so fascinating!

    As for your playlists, while I was reading ‘I am not a serial killer’ the song ‘Mad world’ did pop into my head, so I was kinda freaked out to read that that was one of your inspirations. It really does go well with it, I think.

    Yeah, Sam, I cannot wait to get my hands on more!!!
    Keep it coming!

    P.S. Was reading some past blogs and steam punk is rising in popularity… yes… about time!
    So cannot wait for more from you Dan!

  7. John Brown says:

    This is interesting. The Foo didn’t jangle with my experience of SERIAL. But it felt more frenetic than my reading. The Jules Mad World fit it better for me. However, I don’t know how you guys listen to music while writing. I can do it, but only if it’s playing VERY low and it’s not a new song that makes me want to jive, baby, jive. For example, I just downloaded a number of songs from Dr. Horrible. No way could I write to that becuase I’d want to be singing along every minute.

  8. Arlene says:

    Hehe! My feelings exactly, John.

  9. Sam says:

    With my freeze ray I will STOP…

  10. Steve D says:

    Well, the more I think on Full of Holes, the song Head Like a Hole (I know, how fitting!) keeps rising to the surface. Also, for whatever reason, Depeche Mode’s song Wrong fits as well.

    Personally, I can’t write to music. I am inspired by lots of music, but I can’t have it on while I write.

  11. admin says:

    Interesting, I’ll have to look it up. It’s interesting to note that the title was suggested by the songs “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles, and “Are You Bad?” by Glitter Mini 9, both of which use the lyric “Full of Holes” in some form.

    Also of note: while writing Makeover, I’ve noticed that I listen to music while planning and then turn it off to actually write. That’s more akin to what I used to do. Full of Holes and Strawberry Fields are really the only books I’ve written while listening to music.

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