I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Eric von Rothkirch has got the baddest name for a science fiction writer. Eric systematically posts about his creative process – something I consistently fail to do – and one recent post concerns ambient music, and though this is rather navel-gazing, again I refer my honourable readers to the answer I gave some months ago: one of the reasons for the existence of this blog is to document aspects of the creative life. And this-is-how-I-do-it aspects of writing are, I think, quite apposite. (A quick to aside to mention a great by the autopope and skiffy author Charles ‘Charlie’ Stross on the reality of making a living as a freelance service provider, i.e. a writer.)
For what it’s worth, I’m not 100% sure that the use of music during writing (or any other ‘enhancer’) is a good thing all the writin’ time. Part of me says, ‘No, Hocking, you’ve got to put yourself in the place of the reader; keep quiet and think.’ I’m also aware of research from cognitive psychology that suggests music is detrimental to performance in a given task (because your brain only has a certain amount of attentional resource, and if you direct some at appreciating a piece of music, you’ll have less remaining for your main task). That said, it is a fiction writer’s job – in my opinion – to take the reader through a series of emotional states. To do that, you need to infuse your scenes with emotional intensity, and just as an actor calls upon his or her experience to recreate an emotional state, the writer must do something similar. Music can help that.
Here are some of the things I listen to when writing (and I make sure I don’t listen to them when I’m not writing; they keep their status as ‘work music’). Like Eric, I think movie soundtracks are great. Music with a verbal component is just going to snare too many brain cycles, and good soundtracks are usually good because they’ve been designed to help create an emotional state.
- The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy: Fantastic for chase scenes and bits where you want to feel excited as you write. (Perfect antidote to a Monday morning.)
- Vertigo, North by North-West, Psycho: All these themes are crackers. Composed by Hitchcock‘s main man, Bernard Hermann, they are complex and well crafted pieces that will get you in the story mood. I dare anyone to listen to the theme from North by North-West and not run around their living room trying to avoid an imaginary aeroplane.
- Hulk: A little derivative of the masterly Vertigo theme, but surprisingly deep. Moody.
- The Silence of the Lambs: An absolutely brilliant score by Howard Shore, and genuinely frightening. Conjures memories of a cracking film and one of my favourite books (yes, I liked Hannibal too, and I loved Hannibal Rising; Thomas Harris is frickin’ awesome; Note to self: Write a post on how much I love Thomas Harris on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being my Macbook Pro and 1 being Russell Brand’s haircut).
As you were.