Thursday, August 4, 2011

What’s Your Soundtrack?by Amy Bourett

So, process. I was writing an essay the other about life having its own soundtrack. Which got me thinking about how movies have long had soundtracks – ones that you could even purchase in a record store. (I’m right there between Thelma and Louise flying across the sky in that convertible whenever I hear “Part of you, Part of Me”). Yet, only fairly recently have television shows had recognizable songs instead of “just nice” instrumental background music or – the horror-- laugh tracks, let alone marketed soundtracks. I could be dead wrong, but I think, excepting anything Disney, Grey’s Anatomy was at the forefront of that one. Now every television show it seems is produced with vocal music. To the point where – okay I’ll admit it – I’ve joined my hearing-impaired mother in complaining that I can’t hear the dialogue over the songs. And don’t even get me started on the lighting. I’d come to accept that no home in Las Vegas was equipped with electricity, hence the need for all those CSI flashlights. But is my eyesight going geriatric, too, or is the lighting on television shows getting darker and darker.

Lo, I digress, which actually is a big part of my own writing process, but not the point I’m ambling (or rambling?) toward today. Soundtracks. That other essay (which you can read at if you want some real rambling) talked about my epiphany of putting together a soundtrack of my life. Life, Movies, TV shows, what’s missing here? Books. How long will it be before books are sold with soundtracks that are intended to be played while one is reading said books? I’ve been a bit unplugged, but I think there have already been some cutting-edge book-music tie-ins.

But then there is the other soundtrack: the music you play or hear in your head while writing, to charm the muse, stoke the creative fire. I’ve been doing quite a bit of gardening lately. Some might call it procrastinating from writing, others letting the creative juices stew, but the bottom line is my sock drawers are all OCD-tidy. Anyway, I’ve been constantly surprised at the songs that randomly pop into my head while I’m weeding and pruning and watering. Nursery school songs, Disney movie songs, very annoying summer camp songs, church songs, oldies (even then) that my mom and I sang during the daily hour-long drive to gymnastics practice.

And I realized (see, I knew I’d get you here at some point) that music is a big part of my writing process. I should have thanked Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin in my acknowledgments for their instrumental (pun intended) part in my writing Mothers and Other Liars. The revisions and editing stuff were mostly accompanied by the “Random Play” button (which is very aptly named – C&W to Opera and everything in between) of my sound system.

I don’t always play music when I’m writing. But I do think it is a way for me to get myself out of the way of the creative flow. And I bet that if you put an earbud to my brain, something would be playing there, whether on a conscious or unconscious level. Please just don’t let it be about ants marching home again.

So what about you? Do you listen to music when you write?

What songs are on the soundtrack of your book, whether the reader’s version or the writer’s version?


  1. I have a playlist of over 300 songs I listen to and there are certain songs that fit the mood/characterization of the story I'm working on at that time. In fact, sometimes I hear a song and it makes me think of a character or scene or plot and into the playlist it goes. Right now, my favorites are: War Again by Balkan Beat Box (which I think would be great in the Hunger Games movie too), My Immortal by Evanescence, Mad World by Michael Andrews, Secrets by OneRepublic, Hazy by Rosi Golan, Set The Fire To The Third Bar by Snow Patrol...the list could go on and on.

    As for books coming with playlists, they already do. In several of the YA books I've read recently, there is a page (or 2) dedicated to the songs the author listened to while writing. Also, on I've noticed at the bottom of the information about the book, there is often a playlist with links to purchase the individual songs.

  2. No surprise there. Soon they'll play automatically when you flip a page - like those annoying greeting cards!

  3. Amy, I wish I could listen to music while I write, but I'm too easily distracted! As for music that creeps into my books, it's usually a strange combination of Mozart piano concertos and Def Leppard. Funny how that happens. ;-)

  4. I don't really listen to music while writing, but sometimes I hear a song and I'm inspired to sit down and write. My third novel is "all mixed up with birds and songs" so it's a whole other ball of wax. What impresses me about music is that one three minute song can invoke feelings which take me three-hundred pages to evoke! I'm jealous. :-)