For the last couple of years, every time I sat down to work seriously on The Sharp Edge of Yesterday, I clicked play on its playlist. I’m happiest writing when I have headphones on and music going. Makes sense, right? A lot of people like to listen to music while they work. But as a writer, that background music doubles as the soundtrack of my stories’ creation.
And I think that’s neato-keen, so I’m gonna write a bit about it. If you want to skip the meandering musings & find out what I had in my ears while I wrote Sharp Edge, click here for the album list & a (non-monetized) Spotify link at the end of the post.
Still here? Cool. There’s a reason every story I write has its own playlist: it’s a critical part of my prep process.
Not all writers prep to write. Me, I need a pre-flight checklist to help my brain shuck off the surly bonds of earthly concern and let creativity soar. Every writer finds their own process. For some it’s as simple as opening a journal and picking up a pen. For others, it’s a more elaborate series of actions, involving specific noise levels, times of day, clothing etc. People don their writing socks and hat, sit in the writing corner, tidy up the desk, close all the extra applications, and get the workspace perfect.
My routine falls somewhere in the mid-range of complexity. I work at a desk, put on headphones, and queue up the playlist. It isn’t much, but the physical ritual pairs the usefulness of “blocking out the outside world” with a healthy dose of multi-channel sensory stimulation.
Focus is a tricky issue. For me, concentrating on a single activity is like sending a bowling ball down the lane. It’s easier to get my brain to stay on target if I can fill up the sensory gutters with big, cushy bumpers. Once I’m rolling, with some comfortable, familiar sensory pushback keeping me in line, the words flow better.
Starting up music is part of that ritual. Many writers I know play actual soundtracks in the background when they’re working. They pick melodies that reflect or inform the mood of the scenes they’re writing. Symphonic music is popular, as are jazz, new age instrumentals, marching band music, even. The big element their music has in common, the one I notice when people make recommendations or share their writing playlists: it’s all instrumental music. Music without words.
That isn’t for me. That kind of music reaches out, grabs me by the ears and insists I listen to it. I already have difficulty focusing, at least until I achieve hyperfocus. (Yay, ADHD.) So I can’t work when jazz or rousing symphonic tunes are playing. I’m too busy listening. I have to look to other genres. Which ones? SO GLAD YOU ASKED!
We interrupt this blog post for an important obligatory book plug. The Sharp Edge Of Yesterday launches in 12 days now. Visibility is life, for independently-published books, and pre-orders magically transform into visibility gold on release day. So, then. If you’ve been thinking about buying Sharp Edge, now’s the time to jump in.
When picking musical companionship for my creative travels, I look for music that lets me know it’s there by talking to me, but doesn’t demand I pay close attention. Unobtrusive, but supportive. My playlists are heavy on show tunes, rock ballads with catchy melodies, and boppy pop music with solid, repetitive rhythm. No heavy metal or rap; those genres are the jazz stylings of the rock world, as far as I’m concerned. I admire & enjoy rap and metal artists in moderation, but there are none I can play as accompaniment to another activity.
Now, when I say I make playlists for every story, I don’t mean I create all-new playlists. Some tunes on the Sharp Edge of Yesterday playlist came from the one I created for Rough Passages. I put some tunes on EVERY writing playlist, plus I retire songs and add others even during the writing process.
I don’t recommend reading anything thematic or symbolic into my selections. I don’t recommend it as a soundtrack to reading the book. (I don’t recommend against it, either. I’m just saying there’s no direct, timed, connection.)
This list is heavy on oldies because they felt right for the protagonist. The show tunes come from the musicals of my youth, with lyrics I know by heart, and the rock songs are mainly ones that make me laugh, cry, or dance in my chair. And now, without further digression, here’s my Sharp Edge Of Yesterday playlist:
And for those who don’t do streaming, here’s an album list:
- Hair: Original Broadway Cast
- Jesus Christ Superstar: Original STUDIO Cast Recording
- Godspell: Original OFF-Broadway Cast Recording
- Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: Joseph Consortium Recording
- 99.9° F: Suzanne Vega
- Combat Rock: The Clash
- The Platinum Collection Disc 1: Queen
- Tapestry: Carole King
- The Platinum Collection Disc 2: Queen
- John Denver’s Greatest Hits
- Hobo’s Lullaby & Alice’s Restaurant: Arlo Guthrie
- Greatest Hits: James Taylor
- I play these in order. It’s a long day if I get through the whole thing. (RARE) There are many playlists I’ll toss onto random. Writing soundtracks? I rely on knowing which tune will come next.
- I delete all live tracks, applause will knock me right out of the zone.
- The specific musical recordings matter: I loathe most recordings of J&tATDC, f’rex.
- I mix up the Arlo Guthrie tracks from those two albums so the play order matches the cassette tape we played in the car on long road trips back in the 70’s.
I think that’s it. Here’s a cute cat picture, and please buy my wonderful books about midlife crisis superpowers & how they changed history.