On Music and Writing

Last month, I rounded up pictures to post on Instagram that matched the daily prompts of #authorlifemonth. Each day, authors posted photos of their books, who they would cast as the leads in the novels, or fan art. Day 6’s prompt asked writers to share photos of their writing music. Up popped Spotify playlists and pictures of “now playing” displays on iPods.

My photo for the day was the sheet music for The Winner Takes It All by Abba. Ellen plays this tune in Chapter 23 of my work-in-progress. In Ellen the Harpist, she had borrowed repertoire from my gig books, but in book #2, she has branched out into her own musical territory. This is one of several tunes she’ll play in the novel that I chose to reflect her tastes and temperament rather than mine.

I don’t listen to music while I write (except for the less than dulcet tones of my dog, Lola, luring me away from the laptop with her squeak toys). One reason I choose silence is my mental jukebox doesn’t have an off switch. I hear music in my head throughout the day. My dreams have soundtracks each night. After I wrote about Ellen’s performance of The Winner Takes It All, the song began playing non-stop in my inner ear. And so I had no choice but to download the sheet music and add it to my background music set list.

My career as a harpist informed both of the books I have published. Whereas stories from my gig life became a backdrop against which to set the plots of my novel, my experience working with soon-to-be married couples occupies a central role in my wedding ceremony music guide, From Here Comes the Bride to There Go the Grooms. Each of my books comes with its own playlist.

Perfect Day

The marriage of music and writing melded together harmoniously in Chapter 25 of Ellen the Harpist. I play tea at the St. Regis New York a few days each month. Four years ago, while plucking my way through Perfect Day by Lou Reed at the hotel, my mind wandered. I pictured a scene in which Ellen and her bff’s, Chloe and Gwen, spent a day following the activities laid out in the lyrics.

Traffic jams at the Lincoln Tunnel that afternoon delayed my bus’ departure by half an hour. I scrawled my ideas from teatime into my notebook as I waited in line at Port Authority. Route 3 westbound was equally snarled. I continued scribbling away as we crawled home. After a quick dinner and a glass of wine, I spewed a 2500-word chapter into my laptop.

While one song inspired an entire chapter, not all chapters are as easy to write. How does music inspire you? Do you hear or listen to music when you read?

I have an ambitious idea for the digital edition of my next novel, one that will add music to your reading experience. Perhaps I will record each of the solos Ellen plays and link to the files from the book. Meanwhile, I’ve got to replace the Perfect Day ear worm now infecting me lest I rewrite an already published chapter.


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5 thoughts on “On Music and Writing

  1. I’d love it if you’d record the music and make it available as we read book#2! When I read book 1, I was tempted to go listen to all of Ellen’s music but alas did not.

  2. Some indies are doing this already. Archie of Outlandish and Dinner with God. The difference is with Dinner with God, the CD came separately and Archie was not so much embedded, which is what I think you want to do, but available for download after the fact.

    And I loved “Here comes the Bride…” as a pastor I actually used to have my organist play the Volga Boat song, or a funeral march as the “music” during the rehersal to kind of lighten things up (I do not allow rehearsals to happen if ANYONE has/is imbibing) since it is actually quite important to get everyone’s attention

  3. Dear Robin and Andrea-
    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about music and writing. You’re helping push me in the direction of recording audio tracks!

  4. I’ve thought about embedding a way to hear the music on a book I’m working on. For the print editions, could you do one of those QR codes that could link to your recorded tune? I have not researched this – just thought I’d throw it out as a possibility.

    1. Thanks for your question, Nancy! In the paperback, I printed out the YouTube link with a note about the videos following the first link. It’s a little clumsy, but I hope readers find it accessible. Good luck with your book!

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