Monday, May 5, 2008

Listening to music while I write

Do you remember the character “T.V. Baby” in Drugstore Cowboy with Matt Dillon? That character always cracked me up. (He was played by Max Perlich, who played Brody on Homicide, my all-time favorite t.v. show.)

I’m like the T.V. Baby in that I feel a little bit at loose ends if I don’t have some kind of media playing all the time. Depending on what else I’m trying to do I dial down the media to be wallpaper or dial it up to keep my mind from going to the dark places. That means that I have music playing pretty much constantly during my waking hours.

I’m a big music fan, and the basic thing for me that gets me excited is melody—especially the hook in a pop melody. I love it, but it tends to grab my attention. So having any kind of rock or country or folk music or pop music of any kind while I’m writing ends up being a big distraction. Even if I keep the volume low, the hook in most pop music tends to leap out in front and get my attention at a certain point.

So I try keeping the music off, but I end up feeling antsy. The silence tends to break my concentration as much as the pop hook.

So the compromise I’ve found that works for me is lots of classical music, which I’m not especially a fan of and certainly not very attentive to. There’s just not enough melodic hook in it to catch my attention.

It might also have something to do with the lack of a lyric,. On my computer media player all the opera is in the same folder as the other classical music and when that comes up on shuffle it’s slightly more likely to break my concentration.

I’m also a big jazz fan and I seem to be able to tolerate instrumental jazz playing while I’m at work. It’s a little more disruptive to my attention than classical music, but not much more so, so it’s suited better to aspects of the work that requires less concentration. When I was typing all the manuscript in, I could have jazz playing. It’s probably not the best choice when I’m drafting.

Jazz vocals in a jazz band, however, are as disruptive as any other pop music. Billie Holiday or Shirley Horn singing “Summertime” will crash my attention in a way that Miles Davis playing it won’t, even though when I deliberately pay attention to Miles Davis playing it I’m transported.

What music works for you while you’re writing? Does the stage of the writing process matter?

No comments: