Music is the spice of life. Or maybe that's variety. Or maybe it's just actual spice. If spice was the spice of life, that would sort of make sense. But music is definitely spicy. And inspiring. Something it's also great at -- squeezing the words out of your fingers as they twitch relentlessly over the worn keys of a dying laptop.
Recently, a good friend of mine pointed out the release of the latest Lagwagon album, Hang. I'm a 90's punk-rock kid with hair that's suffered many dye jobs (with decidedly mixed results), and I can't resist the cherubic sounds of heavy distortion and jaded cynicism. I've been listening to Hang on loop since I downloaded it from the label. More important than a plug for a totally underrated band, however, is the magical effect that music has on the production of the written word.
I majored in the humanities in college, which means I did a lot of writing. Most days I'd be listening to Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain while cranking out paper after paper. I don't know how I got turned on to the album (in fact, I don't remember when I first bought it), but I played trumpet in different bands all through school and life and I'm a big fan of jazz. For whatever reason, the medium is inspiring to me. In the case of Miles, it's probably the bold sounds and the effortless improvisations. Listening to jazz -- Sketches of Spain in particular -- helps move the ideas from the darker recesses of my mind into reality where everyone else can see them.
I kept this little trick on hand when I started to write professionally. And it may not work for everyone, but engaging in another creative medium -- whether actively or passively, in this case -- can help to bolster your literary mastery. If only temporarily. You'll have to find what works for you. I've read accounts from various writers and artists who prefer different kinds of music when they're working. Some find music with lyrics distracting. And while I think that's a valid point, I don't suffer from the same distraction. For me, I do my best work in a trance-like state. I use music to get me into that zone. After I'm there, no amount of singing is going to bring me out. Losing steam or exhausting myself are about the only reasons I'll come up for air.
It's possible that music aids the creative process in more subtle ways. The mathematical nature of music could help with subconsious structuring, for instance. Perhaps the flow of input into your brain allows for a greater output. But the most obvious way that music serves writers is that it becomes an accessible vehicle for the story's soundtrack. It's easy to go on Pandora or delve into an iTunes playlist to come up with songs that reflect a certain mood. This is a great way to write a single scene or a whole book. Listen to the music that embodies the feelings you want to inspire in your readers at specific points in your story. If you're writing an action sequence, go for alt rock or electronica. For somber tones in your writing, listen to indie folk or 80's rock ballads.
Whatever your preference, experiment with different music to get a feel for what helps your words flow. In my experience, creativity inspires creativity, and different media can sometimes combine to form spectacular results.