Writing is hard. It’s hard to begin, hard to continue, hard to finish. To write successfully and consistently requires an alchemical combination of discipline and inspiration so personal that reading advice on the subject amounts to watching someone else die to learn how it’s done. And while it often feels enlightening to read about the habits of, say, Steinbeck or Austen, their methods are non-transferable. You’ve got to find your own way. So it is with writing to music. It’s always there in the background, goading you on quietly. Not everyone writes to music; not everyone can. But a good many do, including Wired contributor Steve Silberman who calls the practice one of many rituals writers use “to evoke that elusive flow of inspiration.”
Silberman just wrote a piece for NeuroTribes in which he surveyed ten authors on their favorite music to write by. One of Silberman’s own choices, Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way (above), is one I’m stealing. With its brilliant assemblage of musicians and haunting moodiness it sets the perfect tone for my process. Also, there’s no singing. Like Silberman, I can’t compete with a wise, witty lyricist (he mentions Elvis Costello, I prefer Morrissey). In Silberman’s piece, John Schwartz, a New York Times reporter, listens to nothing. Jane Hirschfield, a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, likes David Byrne, Dylan’s Modern Times, and Gillians Welch’s The Harrow and the Harvest. Wired contributing editor David Wolman makes a playlist of mostly indie-pop songs entitled “Write the Book!” His main criterion for the songs he chooses: DO NOT BE BORING! My default writing music is exemplified by Australian three-piece instrumental rock band Dirty Three (below).
So now it’s your turn, readers. Do you write to music? If so, what is it? What artists/composers/albums help you find your rhythm and why? Can you stand lyrics in the music you write by or no? Leave your selections in the comments. On Monday, we’ll compile them in an article and leave you with a great Open Culture playlist. Whether you find something you can steal or not, it should be a fun exercise.
*See our follow-up post with a list of your favorites here
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.