The music I listen to as I write

As is my wont, I’ve been been listening to music as I work on my current novel, and I’ve begun building a playlist of songs that are either keeping me in the mood of my book or else directly inspiring passages or even whole chapters of my novel. So I thought I’d share some of the songs I’ve been listening to the past few weeks as I rework this book of mine.

These are not period-correct — my novel is set between the late 1860s and the late 1890s — but whether by tone or by lyric, these songs (in no particular order, though privately, I do have an order in mind) are definitely feeding my work lately.

For the record, I much prefer the Townes Van Zandt version of “Waiting Around to Die,” but for some reason, this rendition feels right for what I’m writing. Still, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t also share the Van Zandt version:

I’ve long been a fan of the Civil Wars, for a whole range of fairly obvious reasons. But I’m a fan just because I’m a fan — they were amazing while they lasted — so I wasn’t expecting to include them in this playlist. But then this song cropped up and I started paying attention to the lyrics and I realized this song speaks at least sideways to an important relationship in my novel, so onto the list it goes!

This next song deals a lot with nautical imagery, and I hadn’t planned on any of my characters setting out to sea. But then, I don’t know that I’m done with Capt. Brewster, a super-background minor character from Hagridden who gets a reference in my story “Jarabe” and gets his own story in “The Voices Captain Brewster Heard.” So maybe he makes an appearance in this new novel, or maybe he doesn’t but one of the other characters goes to sea anyway, or maybe none of that happens and the “sea” voyage is just a metaphor. I haven’t found out yet. But I do know that this song’s late line, “Just because you caught me, does that make it a sin?” kept ringing in my ears, so I had to include it:

This is just a starting place, of course. This playlist will keep expanding as I keep exploring music, and I definitely want to add some period-appropriate songs to the mix. Because my novel takes place mostly in the 1890s, it is awfully tempting, for example, to include some version of “Daisy Bell,” and because I’m such a fan of Mark Ryden‘s art and I already have one Nick Cave song on my playlist, I really feel like I have to share Cave’s rendition of “Daisy Bell” that he made for Mark Ryden’s “The Gay Nineties” exhibition:

(As an old Metallica fan, I’m also enjoying Kirk Hammett’s version, and folks, let me tell you, if you can manage to play them at the same time, the result is weirdly amazing. Start with Hammett and let it run for about 30 seconds, then fire up the Cave. Blame your nightmares on those guys, not me.)

But really, even these modern takes don’t fit at all with the tone of the story I’m telling, so I’ll have to keep looking for period tunes.

Got any suggestions? I’m all ears!

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

5 thoughts on “The music I listen to as I write

  1. I love your taste in what I call ‘transgressive country’, but I think I would hurl myself off the Talahatchie Bridge if I had to listen to it unbroken.

    When I work, I often do so in silence, or with sea-on-shore sounds playing softly, or with my player on random shuffle. So I’m as likely to come up with the Kyrie from Ligety’s Requiem as I am with Adam

  2. PS.
    ‘Psalms’ and ‘Hammers and Nails’ won’t play for me (“video not available”)

    ‘Pretty Polly’ – in case you’re wondering where Bob Dylan got…

    1. Huh. Maybe it’s an international thing? I remember there were videos I couldn’t watch when I lived in the UAE; maybe these won’t play in the UK?

      Thanks for that Dylan! I love that tune, but I haven’t listened to it in a long time. 🙂

    1. I hear that a lot (see Marie’s comment above, for example). And I get it — we all have our habits and personal rules, and silence seems to be a common for a lot of writers. But I have always found that absolute silence leaves too much space for the noise in my head, so music — but only the RIGHT music — helps keep me focused. And when it’s especially apt, the music can even lead me in interesting new directions. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: