Kickstarting the Muse with Music (Part 1)

Today’s guest post by Kiersten Hallie Krum serves up part one of our two-part special on music and the writing Muse. Join us again tomorrow for part two. ~ Jennelle

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Music note

Music Note, courtesy of Morten Kleveland.

A few weeks ago, I was struggling to focus and push through to the finish on the so-close-to-done-I-can-taste-it WIP. I decided to restructure my writing environment in a small way – kick start my tuchus into 100th gear.

I’m visually-oriented, which means I focus and comprehend better when images are involved. Apparently, my comprehension development arrested somewhere around picture books in kindergarten. I often write with the television on and the sound off, which, as you might guess, invites a great deal of distraction. My brilliant plan for reinfusion centered on using the Pandora network through my BluRay player and stocking up on soundtrack options as a soundtrack for my writing (see what I did there?); visual and audio all in one.

Pandora, that marvelous gift from the stereo gods, is great for random playlists when you don’t care what you hear, but give it a specific title or a band or singer and it will play everything but the one you wanted in the first place. The more names you feed it, the better the chance you’ll actually get to listen to what you set out to hear. But therein lay my dilemma – what tunes should I add to the list?

So I did what I always do when faced with such a predicament: I tweeted it.

Hail Mary Answered

I love Twitter. As a hive mind of random intelligence, it cannot be matched. Everything from the best way to install a header into a Word document to a last minute beta reader to where to find the unfindable has come to me via Twitter. My beautiful baby didn’t fail me this time either as Jennelle flooded me with tweet after tweet of soundtracks and composers to feed into Pandora. But as I plugged in her many outstanding suggestions, I discovered a few unforeseen pitfalls.

Choose Wisely

The music I usually choose is full of tunes so familiar I nearly tune them out – a distraction to lessen distractions. Either I format a playlist or revert to favored artists. David Gray tends to be my go to crooner with Ray LaMontagne and Michael Bublé close behind, a mellow, inoffensive backdrop to sizzling, smart women and hot, smart-assed guys. But this time, I wanted to play with soundtracks.

Passion – Music For The Last Temptation Of Christ, by Peter Gabriel

At Oxford, my housemates and I passed Peter Gabriel’s Passion, soundtrack for the movie The Last Temptation of Christ, around like a hot potato. Nothing helps you organize your thoughts on how the lack of primogenitor ultimately kept medieval Welsh princes from being able to maintain power past one generation like the Middle Eastern beats of Passion. Still one of my favorite scores.

Many writers chose their playlists according to the mood of the scene they’re writing. Some use playlists to craft the framework of plot and character like an auditory collage. I’ve been known to crack out my “Hot Songs To Bang To” playlist when sexy writing times are at hand. And then there are those marathon writing days when you need the shuffle to keep pumping out orchestrations.

Composer Harry Gregson-Williams wrote the score for the first two films in The Chronicles of Narnia franchise along with Kingdom of Heaven. James Howard created the soundtracks for Legends of the Fall, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, and Troy to name only a few. Patrick Doyle hallmarks his trademark trumpet fanfares in Much Ado About Nothing and Thor. And Hans Zimmer covers the spectrum from life to death in everything from The Lion King to Gladiator. And lest this become an all boys club, check out Rachel Portman, composer of the soundtracks for The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, and the Academy Award-winning score for Emma.

Beware the Tune Association

But the course of true tuneage never did run smooth, at least not for me, and I tripped over a few pitfalls in my soundtrack mining. So that someone learns from my mistakes (because I never do), a few cautionary notes when considering your soundtrack choices:

  • Certain soundtracks can suck you in so deep, you might find yourself loading the extended BluRay edition of the movie into the machine with no memory of how you got there (I’m looking at you, Lord of the Rings!) … and thus, no longer writing. Try an unfamiliar composer or film whose melody has no visceral visual resonance. I myself have never seen The Cider House Rules, so that tops my list.
  • There’s always the danger the music will make you dream a dream in times gone by … erm, maybe steer clear of musical soundtracks lest you wind up turning your office into a cabaret venue to showcase your interpretation of “Bring on the Men” from Jekyll and Hyde, The Musical … and again thus, no longer writing (No? Just me? All righty then).
  • Stay away from any soundtrack that begins with the words “Harry Potter”. Trust me on this.
  • I do not do well with melodic themes from movies whose emotional resonance has ripped my heart from my chest. That mournful trumpet theme from Dances With Wolves sounds out and I’m back in a snow-covered valley with Wind in His Hair on the cliff ledge shouting down at the departing Dunbar. Can you not see that I will always be your friend? Sniff. I can name that emotional breakdown moment in two notes, Bob. It does not help a sexy scene if I have to pause mid-writing some bump-and-grind to gird my emo loins. Just saying.

So, what’s your preference when writing? music or no music? Words or soundtracks? Familiar or new to you? Leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win a copy of – absolutely nothing because I forgot to bring a gift. Though there is this great playlist I’ve been working on …

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Kiersten Hallie Krum

About Kiersten: Kiersten Hallie Krum writes smart, sharp & sexy romantic suspense novels. She is delighted to announce that her completed manuscript CATCH ME is the winner of the 2012 Emily Award. She writes for the Heroes and Heartbreakers online romance community, and is a partner in the entertainment website Sanguinia: Entertainment with Bite. Kiersten has written back cover copy for all genres of romance novels since 1999 for clients including Avon Books, Forever Romance, St. Martin’s Press, and Pocket Books. She has worked as an intern in regional theater, spent several years in advertising and promotion in the book publishing industry, and currently spends her days toiling as an editor in the pharmaceutical advertising industry. She has a BA in English and History, including a year’s study of Celtic History at Oxford University, and an MS in Publishing along with the education loans to prove it.

A born and bred Jersey girl with all of the attitude and little of the accent, Kiersten prefers to live surrounded by music and likes to spray whipped cream straight into her mouth and drive fast with the windows down. To find out more, visit www.kierstenkrum.com and follow Kiersten across social media as @kierstenkrum.

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5 thoughts on “Kickstarting the Muse with Music (Part 1)

  1. Hi Kiersten!!! Welcome to the tearoom!! ❤

    I love writing to soundtracks. I wrote the book that just released on Monday to Master & Commander and the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks, all 3 of them. (That was before POTC 4. LOL!)

    I can't listen to soundtracks with words or lyrics though. That's distracting to my time period, sad to say. And lately, I'm enjoying writing in silence. 😉

  2. Now that I have power, I can comment! Katherine, I love the Master & Commander music. Should definitely add that. And PoC pop up in the Pandora stream all the time. There are so many of them after all.

    It’s funny, but when I really get going with the writing, I find I actually hit the pause button and go down into the silence. I do it thinking it’ll only be till I get this one thought down or finish this one paragraph and an hour later I come back to myself and realize how long I’ve been out of it in the silence. That I guess is what really motivates my muse in the end – just getting it done.

    Thanks for having me here today! A nice treat to visit with such lovely people on such a terrible day.

    • Oh, yes!! Pandora!! I totally forgot to add that I listen to Baroque music on Pandora. Love it!! That’s basically what I’m writing the sequel to my debut book to. And it will go off as you say and I will not realize it. So cool that we’re alike that way!

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