Writing to the Sound of Silence

Monday, May 11, 2015

Some people like writing to music. When I was at an ACFW Indiana luncheon several weeks ago, one of the panelists mentioned that she plays 1940s music when writing World War II historicals and contemporary music when writing contemporary novels.

I prefer silence.

It isn’t that I don’t like music. Quite the contrary. Music distracts me because I want to listen or sing along when I should be writing.

Songs with words are the worst. Even when they are played as instrumentals, the words still run through my head. Sometimes they even bleed onto the paper by mistake.

But what about music without words? Some writers play classical music that matches the intensity of the scene they are working on: maybe the second movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony for a peaceful scene or Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring for a chaotic one.

I enjoy classical music. But novels—and even chapters—don’t maintain the same intensity throughout. For example, Desert Jewels has a chapter where my protagonist and her friend are running an errand when a dust storm blows up. In the fury of the wind, the girls can’t see or hear each other and only manage to stay together because Emi has the good sense to grab Toyo’s hand and hold on. When they stumble upon a laundry barrack, they go inside to relative calm and stay there until the wind dies down enough for them to find their way home. The action rises again as they leave their shelter to brave the less ferocious but still gusty wind.

Of course, these intensity changes are also true of symphonies and concertos and violin solos. But I can just imagine how much of my precious writing time would be used up finding the perfect piece of music to match the changing rhythms of the chapter I’m working on at the time. I’ll leave that to the professionals when the book becomes a movie.

In the Simon and Garfunkel song, the sound of silence is a negative that translates into loneliness. When I’m writing, the sound of silence is a positive that translates into creativity.

Every writer is different. If you are more productive when writing to music, then do it.

But I prefer the sound of silence.

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