notebook writing tip 2 taking inspiration from music possum paper works

Welcome to the Possum Paper Works Writing Tip Rodeo. Today I’m discussing how I take inspiration from music in my writing, and how you can do the same!

Writing Tip #2 – Taking Inspiration from Music

I love music. I always have and always will. When I can’t find the words to write, turning on the right music almost always helps get me started.

Sometimes I make connections between the music and a specific set of scenes. Sometimes I have songs that are distinctive to certain characters. Regardless of the situation, it’s rare for me to work on a project and not find music that inspires my writing.

If you’re looking for an easy way to find a little inspiration, use music!

“I would say that music is the easiest means in which to express, but since words are my talent, I must try to express clumsily in words what the pure music would have done better.”

The Right Music

For me, the “right music” varies greatly from project to project. For example, “Only The Good Die Young” never fails to remind me of a set of my characters, specifically a gay Catholic cop from Virginia who loves Billy Joel. Often the song reminds me of his friends loudly singing that song at his wedding.

Similarly, pretty much any Hozier song makes me start to picture a different character. “Work Song” especially puts images in my mind instantly of that character dancing. The scene inspired by those images actually became an important part of the plot once I considered it.

There are also songs that I associate with more general plots and relationships rather than specific scenes or characters. Those songs might never appear in the story, but still provide me with the perfect mood to write. Turning them on instantly begs me to return to the worlds of certain characters.

The right music will be different for you too. Don’t limit yourself to what you think should be the right song. If you’re into crunchy remixes of video game tracks, use those! If you like rare 1920s recordings, go for it! What music you like will make your writing as unique as you are.

Using music for inspiration

Chances are you have songs that you love and that already inspire you to write. That’s great, if so! If not, don’t despair.

An easy way to find music that suits your writing is just to listen to your collection. The genre doesn’t matter. It may help to listen to songs with lyrics, but if you prefer music without words you can listen for other aspects of the song! A cheerful piece might make you think of a scene of frolicking in the springtime, while a dark and deep song might pull you to investigating the forest at night.

The main thing to do is listen to the music with your mind active. Find the phrases, lyrical or musical, that evoke something in you. Research the musicians involved. Listen, don’t just hear. Be a part of the music.

If you’re looking for a fresh idea, lose yourself to the music. See what you find in the ebb and flow of the chords or the ramblings of the singer.

If you want to expand on a world you already know a bit about, see what connections you make from the song to your world. What do the lyrics say about your characters? What does the beat say about your plot?

There’s not one right or wrong way to incorporate music into your writing, so don’t hold back. Find out what feels best for your work and embrace it!

Using artwork also works!

Not the musical type? Find a piece of visual art you love! How you find inspiration from the work is similar to with music, just with colors, subjects, or moods instead of lyrics and chords.

Art museum websites are great for this. Most have searchable databases of their pieces. MoMA, The Met, and my hometown VMFA all have great collections with photos online. Check out your local galleries and museums too! You never know where you might find art you connect with.

Do this now!

1. Listen to 5 songs you like, stopping if you find the perfect song before you finish all 5.

2. Analyze the song that speaks to you the most at this exact moment. You don’t need to understand music to do this. Just find what resonates with you the deepest.

3. Connect the lyrics, musical language, or tone from one song to your characters, plot, theme, or whatever feels best.

4. Using that song, see what other connections you can make. Build some of those connections on the spot. That reference to the songwriter’s heartbreak in the rain? Fit that into your own story somehow. That springy march of the drums? Put that beat into your character’s steps. Get as weird as you want. It’s your story!

To alter this exercise for art, pick only one or two art pieces you like to start with but follow the same basic procedure.

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