Words & Music
I’ve been talking to writers about how we create prose, and a common subject has emerged.
But let’s not talk about money today.
It seems most of us write to music. Joanne Harris tells me she was in a band, and has a strong musical ear for prose. China Mieville and Iain Banks both mentioned the strong influence of music on them. Apparently Terry Pratchett stopped playing sounds while working because musical rhythms started invading his prose and shaping cadences.
Personally, I find it hard to work without playing some kind of music, but it needs to be instrumental, or the lyrics invade my head. I think it was Jonathan Franzen who went to the opposite extreme and sealed out all light and sound from his room before starting to overcome his writers’ block.
I’m not sure a real ‘block’ exists, but I am positive that the right state of mind isn’t enough – there’s an exercise that requires you to power through the ‘being stuck’ phase as if you were driving a runaway truck.
I have a trainer who teaches me about states of mind, and before you dismiss this as New Age rubbish, I’d like to point out that this is a guy who can get me free-standing on my hands in around 30 seconds just by preparing me mentally.
Musicologists dismiss the so-called concentrating effects of Mozart for students studying, but I find that low bass-heavy chords, the kind you get in suspense film soundtracks, definitely alter my tendency to rush the writing of big scenes, making me extend sequences to their correct reading speeds.
Shakespeare famously built breath pauses into Iambic Pentametre (ie xX xX x – – X xX), but writers can do this too. For some wonderful examples of this technique, look at the short stories of JG Ballard and check out the end lines – often, he deliberately slows the pace of the words to create a gentle, elegiac conclusion.
Music can change the writing pace for you – it’s a bit like driving with an automatic gearbox. If anyone else is interested in this, let me know and we’ll talk further.