2019 is the year you write your novel! It’s March, so hopefully, you already have some ideas circulating in your head. If not, it’s okay: remember author Daniel José Older’s advice that writing should always begin with self-forgiveness, and that shame is counter-productive to writing.
You have countless resources to meet your writing goals this year—including this blog, which offers suggestions on using music to push yourself along in the creation process.
A fantastic Hear to Write blog from last June already mentioned how to create playlists to tap into genre and characters, so make sure to check that one out first. For today, I will focus on how playlists can help you make sense of story, place, and plot.
Playlist #1: Story
If you already have a story circulating in your head, lovely! But if you don’t—or if you want to play around with multiple ideas—music can be one of the best places to draw inspiration. Some of my favorite songs have odd notes or whimsical language that spark an idea I’d like to follow. Specifically, I love fantasy, so most of the songs I keep in my “ideas” playlist contain fantastical imagery.
Take “Walnut Tree” by Keane: “Once, there was a great storm / Pushed my head beneath the waves / I was gone / Underneath the walnut tree / Where you said you’d wait for me / And I waited a long, long time.”
The combination of a storm on the ocean, a walnut tree beneath it, and waiting for someone who might never come back—those are images I’d like to play with and see where they take me.
The songs on this playlist contain similarly fantastical images and language I can easily see slipping into a Tolkien-esque fairy tale complete with avenging knights, midnight specters, and wise and terrible spirits directing paladins like pieces on a chessboard.
Playlist #2: Place
No matter what genre you’re writing in—fiction, personal essay, memoir—you need a good sense of the world you’re creating before you can immerse your reader in it, too. I’ve found that having the right kind of background music while you write helps you feel fully part of the world you’re building so you know not just how it looks but also how it feels.
When I’m trying to create a world, I like using a combination of instrumental and lyrical tracks. You might find it helpful to include songs from movie soundtracks, but I personally don’t—it’s too easy to remember the scene where the song plays, and I don’t want to describe that scene; I want to describe my own. At the same time, I do have a lot of soundtracks by composers I like (e.g. James Horner) from movies I haven’t seen, and I like writing to those, too!
For example, here’s a playlist for a story set in an icy snowscape. I like my snowscapes blue and star-studded with air so cold it makes your bones brittle, and that’s what this playlist captures for me.
Playlist #3: Plot
For each story I write, I like creating a playlist that either sketches out a plot or acts as a reverse outline after I’ve written a draft. Doing so helps me see what themes I want for each chapter and what character focus I want to have. I made this playlist for a practice novel I had a lot of fun writing; each song corresponds with a chapter and a specific plot point.
I chose most, but not all, of the songs before writing the chapters; this was particularly helpful when I knew how I wanted a chapter to feel without knowing exactly how it was going to go. This playlist went through three iterations while I wrote and rewrote; this is the final version.
Want more examples of inspiration? Several authors write about the music they use to get ideas; Maggie Stiefvater’s Tumblr music tag includes songs tagged with the story or project they remind her of. Rainbow Rowell’s Spotify has her playlists for characters, plots, and pairings. You can find author playlists yourself on Google or search Apple Music and Spotify for playlists other people have created in honor of their favorite ships and stories. You might find new music that strikes the right chord for the project you’re currently working on.
Do any of your favorite authors host Spotify playlists? Want to share any music from a project you’re working on? What kinds of songs give you the most inspiration? Share your songs, comments, and favorite inspirational playlists in the comments!