I sat down this morning with my laptop—right before my daily workout, which I religiously endure because of the effect it has on my creative mind (a subject that deserves its own post, coming soon)—and wrote fifteen hundred words worth of a story I sketched out yesterday, but I deviated from my normal writing process. I had my earphones on—and wrote while listening to music.
The effects were extraordinary. I don’t know why I’d never tried it before, but I tore through the paragraphs, ideas hitting me as fast as I could write them down, and what I produced during that short 45-minute (or one album) long writing session surpassed my grandest expectations for the story.
Is it a coincidence?
Does it matter if it’s a coincidence or not?
SUPERSTITION IN WRITING
We all do things to coax the most out of ourselves. Some people have special writing chairs; some people can only write poetry in the nude. Why should writing while listening to music be any different?
Of course, it isn’t. It’s just another thing, another predisposition that sets us up for success. But, is there something more to it?
THE EFFECTS MUSIC HAVE ON THE BRAIN
Studies show that music helps you remember things. Students of foreign languages showed exponential improvement in retaining vocabulary definitions when listening to baroque classical music. Also, tempo changes have been shown to disrupt one’s memory. So, if you’re studying the definition of ‘apotheosis’ while listening to Miles Davis, don’t click on some Jay-Z when it’s time to take the test—apparently.*
Some sources said that our brains cannot multi-task, and by giving it two separate objectives we’re diminishing our ability to produce and excel at both of those things, which I think is complete bullshit.
Academically speaking, where your goal is to simply parry facts and information—perhaps. But, in the creative process, I, and many, many others would argue that listening to music stimulates the creative half of the brain, and improves the quality of your writing.
WHAT WERE YOU LISTENING TO?
This morning I turned on Marilyn Manson’s new album Heaven Upside Down, listened to the whole thing, and came out the other end with 1,500ish words written. More importantly, they were words I was happy with. They made me excited, and ready to continue with the writing, eager even.
Now, I’m considering how music genre might play a role in this. So, I conducted an experiment. Now that it isn’t morning and I’m writing a blog post about the effects of music while writing, I’ll return to my draft, and write for another 45 minutes while listening to baroque classical music. Then, I’ll compare the results.
I know absolutely nothing about baroque music. But, thanks to five well placed minutes of online research, I now know that Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion and Handel’s Messiah are wonderful places to start. My introductory song is “Zadok the Priest,” by Handel, performed by the Westminster Abbey Choir, English Chamber Orchestra, Martin Neary, and Martin Baker.
This paragraph is being written while listening to Zadok the Priest. I understand why this piece of music might put someone in the right state of mind as opposed to Manson drawling, “WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE.”
Alright, look, I’m sorry. I couldn’t do it. I know it’s beautiful and intellectual, and that whole schtick, but the simple fact is that I’m not a baroque chamber music fan.
But, maybe the experiment isn’t failed at all, maybe the point I’m trying to make has been elucidated even further by my refusal to write** while listening to that—stuff. I think we all have different tastes, and if you’re a writer, and you’re listening to your favorite music: from Manson to Handel, the Black Keys to white noise. If you love it—I think it’ll make your writing better.
Do me a favor, before you start your daily writing rituals, turn on some music and jam out. If, that isn’t already a part of your writing life because I seem to have missed the boat on this one. People have been doing it for as long as music and prose both existed. Perhaps, even Shakespeare hired a violinist to saw on the ol’ axe while he penned his plays—and fill his wine chalice periodically, of course. What do you think you’re just gonna’ get paid to play a violin and watch a dude write? Pft.
*This is a link to an article that I found particularly illuminating while researching this post. (http://www.brainhealthandpuzzles.com/effects_music_brain.html)
**I did finish my daily writing quota (2,500 words) while listening to music. It happened to be the iTunes curated playlist of essential Black Keys songs. I listened to music I loved—and loved the writing which resulted.