kill the brain

Last week special k took his headphones to work, and it was cataclysmic. When I write, I listen to music on his pro headphones, which effectively shuts me into my own private world. Heading off to a day of writing without them…I felt a little like an addict whose secret stash had disappeared without warning. Shaky, uncertain, wondering how the hell I was going to manage.

Sure enough, at about 1:30 in the afternoon my brain refused to cooperate, and I felt like a hyperactive kid, being forced to sit quietly in a quiet library, about to do something crazy.

Jenny Crusie, Lucy March and Anne Stuart posted a great chat about using soundtracks for developing and writing their books. They talk about using music to create character and mood – and the way the soundtrack becomes synonymous with those things. They talk about music selection and sex songs.

One thing they didn’t mention, and this is probably my primary use of music when I write: It kills off part of my brain. Or if I’m being less dramatic and more accurate, let’s say it distracts part of my brain.

That part that felt like an ADHD kid the other day? It needs noise, and bright shiny things to keep it occupied, so that it doesn’t put its sticky hands all over my story, or come too close to my thoughts and breathe curiously all over them.

It also distracts the critical, analytical part of my brain, so that it’s much easier to just write. I suspect this is the same function music plays in evoking mood. It allows me to slip into a certain part of my feeling-brain and write from there.

The soundtrack for my work in progress (and some of these vids are awful, so just close your eyes and listen!) is:

(this one gave me my hero’s name!)

About anna cowan

I look around, and here I am - housewife and aspiring romance novelist. This seems unexpected.
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2 Responses to kill the brain

  1. bleu_bleuet says:

    Okay, that was interesting. I read the chat and that was interesting, too. I also listened to the songs you added (even tough I had to look for them on a different source because they were killed of at this end for legal reasons) and now I feel like I cannot think, so the comment might be even worse in terms of going off on tangents than usual.

    I am completely amazed that you can think at all when listening to music. I don’t listen to music EVER. Alright, that’s exaggerated. I listen to music if I am really desperate to forget every thought that once existed in my brain so I can THEN concentrate on writing. That, however, is the only occasion. In fact, most of the time I try to concentrate on something I cannot even bear to be in the same room with somebody else. I keep staring at them and thinking, “Stop breathing (so loud) already!” Other people also have this strange distracting energy that makes me awfully edgy even if they just sit somewhere. As do computers and laptops, which is why I write with pen or pencil.
    Once I had put a new nib in the pen and couldn’t concentrate because it wrote so loud! So really, I am quite amazed at your ability to keep your wits about you.

    Music certainly kills the brain. 🙂

    On the other hand, I am doing something similar to what you have described and to what is said in the chat by using other sensory stimulation. Although, admittedly, there is still usually no external input. Sometimes I get inspired by a photograph depicting scenery in a certain mood and keep the photograph as anchor.

    When I look at a story I want to write I ask my self what it should smell, taste and sound like and what temperature it has. Sometime I also look at natural texture, like long hard haulms or young grass, or maybe smooth bark, to get a feel for the story.
    As an example: the story I told you about is cold in a way early autumn mornings tend to be; not biting but maybe a with a first lining of rime on the grass. There is also no mist, though that is typical for autumn mornings and the sky still has the light blue green and grey colouring that is more typical for summer mornings.
    Overall it is a rather dry chillness that cools your skin and lungs and makes everything appear very sharp.
    It smells like smoke from wood fire in this chill air, and in my imagination, you can still smell the fire’s warmth in it. It also smells like earth and grass after a shower of rain.
    It feels like a smooth, unvarnished table surface made of wood, where you can still feel the grains just slightly.
    The sound is that of wind barely stirring long-stemmed grass.
    The colours (maybe you can imagine them as eye-shadows) are a dark brown-blue-silver mix – nearly black – with a very fine shimmer of lighter silver when you look closely and a very dark red, like drying blood. It also has something of the colouring of a low-burning fire or maybe dying embers.

    Then I use the characters to expand on these concepts or to fasten them.
    The main character has this blue-black, smoke-like and dark red personality in my mind. No silver though. His best friend on the other hand is orangey-red and light blue with a bit of very light grey. His grandfather is pure silver with a bit of cold, light blue.
    This works in all categories, not only colour.

    And then I like to use these colours and smells and sounds throughout the whole book and to give them symbolism beyond what they stand for outside of the story.

    Yeah. So I am basically still doing the same just without all that noise from music 🙂

    It’s a bit like conditioning, isn’t it? When a song brings you right back into the story.
    I learned with smells once (sandalwood for History, cinnamon for Geography, etc.) that was really great – much easier to remember things.

    • anna cowan says:

      wow, I’m so fascinated with your smell-association! I guess we all use different sense-stimuli (days of the week and numbers are both coloured in my head), but it would never occur to me to use smell. That’s so cool.

      When me and my friends had a writers retreat a while ago three of us sat in the lounge room together on the sofas, listening to different music. Another friend shut himself away in his tiny bedroom for three hours every day, and another would go for long walks on the beach, then sit out under the tree and type on his typewriter. Everyone needs different conditions, and I reckon the main thing is to understand what works for you and then use it as hard as you can.

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