Writing Inspiration: Music

“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”   --Hunter S. Thompson

Writing and music are deeply entwined for me.

Since childhood, I've connected songs--their lyrics, their moods, the feelings they evoke in me--with stories and daydreams. It seems that there's something about listening to music that puts my mind in as especially associative state. Growing up as an only child who populated her lonely world with characters from books, movies, and TV, I wrote myself into their stories, joining them on their adventures, but also finding my self and my place in the world through my relationships to them. So much of this was expressed through song. The songs I'd sing and would be sung to me, the ones that would be happen to be playing on the radio at important moments...I would create soundtracks to the stories in my head. Even the ones I didn't write myself into, but merely consumed--I could relate a love song I heard on the radio with the love story of characters I had just read about or watched.

When I got a little bit older and started watching music videos--MTV is sixteen days my elder, but I don't believe I began watching videos prior to Vh1's arrival in 1985 at the very earliest--the associations among songs and stories only grew stronger. Early music videos were a mixed bag of live concert footage, random and chaotic concepts and images, and occasionally mini-movies that told either the story of the song or, inexplicably, a totally unrelated story. A vast store of images and tropes emerged from this (my favorite) art form, all made more essential and poignant by being delivered hand in hand with music.

Sound is the first sense I rely on. I have terrible vision and even with the benefit of corrective lenses, I am remarkably--almost alarmingly--visually unobservant. The tiniest noise, however, can hijack my entire awareness. I hear the first two thuds of a bass line in a noisy restaurant where no one else is even cognizant that there is music on and I have to, and almost always immediately can, identify the song. So it makes sense that sound would be the first inspiration for much of my writing. (I am intermittently working on a novel that was entirely inspired by a solo Robert Plant song from 1988. True story. It's strange and slightly embarrassing music, but the first time I heard it, it triggered a host of feelings and landscapes that felt so lovely to dwell in that I had to make up a story just to have an excuse to give them expression. I've ended up creating an entire playlist of songs for the different scenes I've written for the book and they all share that strange and nearly inexplicable feeling to them that keeps me trying to scratch the itch of articulating it. And, of course, the hope that there's anyone out there with whom this would click.)

Click. That's a word I use a lot. I find that pseudo-synesthetic sound descriptions crop up frequently in my writing, often to describe psychological 'sensations'--like with 'click', that intuitive feeling of rightness, truth, or clarity. I also find myself returning frequently to the idea of a 'tuning fork' to express the same idea...

Whenever I'm feeling stuck or bored or uninspired, not only as a writer but generally, as a person, music is the best recourse. It gives me life. It opens my worldview, opens my mind and my heart. It allows me to categorize feelings, ideas, and moods by non-verbal means and that is the key to the creativity that ensues: I may not be able to describe exactly what it is that something means to me, but I can associate it with other sensations, other feelings and thoughts and build a world of analogy. In the heart of every feature of this world beats the same rhythm of likeness, and what I hope to achieve with my writing is the equivalent of standing next to a reader in the middle of it all and gently touching his or her arm with my hand to draw their awareness. Standing so still, so quietly that we are holding our breath, we listen. My eyes ask, "Do you hear it?" and maybe at first they don't, but slowly a smile spreads across their formerly puzzled features and I know that they Get It.

Not so much to ask for, right? Sometimes I'm concerned that these ambitions are too high; that I stymy myself with the need for the writing to be on that level of connectivity. Sometimes I tell myself to just shut up and write a good story and not worry about if anyone knows what the hell I'm talking about on that level. But what pushes us to express ourselves if not the desire to be known and understood? To have the validation that someone else out there senses things or processes them in a similar way that you do? That you're both able to point to a common signifier (since that's all we've got) and say, "Yes, that! That's how I feel!"

Music is most often that signifier for me, making it extremely important to my writing. Music is the gateway to my imagination...