Setting the Mood: Writer Walk-Up Songs

Creativity is a muscle. One that requires practice and even discipline. My husband, in an effort to comfort me on a hard day of writing (or rather non-writing), tried to let me off the hook recently by telling me not to worry about a stuck day.

“You can’t force inspiration.”

Maybe. BUT…

I have kids and volunteer commitments and other work to attend to. Waiting to be inspired is a luxury I can’t afford if I ever want to finish a sentence let alone a 90,000 word manuscript. If I have an hour at the climbing gym while a kid takes a weekly class, then that’s when I have to work. Regardless of my muse’s availability.

Now, that does not mean I can just sit down on the cracked leather sofas of the gym sitting area, ignore the pervasive smell of feet and chalk dust, and just open a creative vein. If only. But, I have learned a few tricks that allow me to drop into the work faster.

One of my favorites is the walk-up song.

If you aren’t familiar, baseball players typically have a walk-up song at their home stadiums that plays as they approach the batter’s box. The ideas is that their song choice pumps them up. Puts them in the zone. Focuses them mentally at the seemingly impossible task of tracking a ball hurtling through space so fast that by the time the batter’s brain registers it leaving the pitcher’s hand it is already in front of the plate then swinging a bat around fast enough to not only make contact with this speeding projectile but to put that ball into play with specific purpose.

Writers have the similarly impossible task of pounding out 80,000 words into a cohesive narrative arc with a well-paced plot, fully-developed characters, tension, sensory details, and snappy dialogue. It might not happen as quickly as the batter at the plate (again, if only), but it’s probably got the same number of moving parts.

So I often use a walk-up song to pump me up, focus my efforts, remind my body of the muscles it needs to swing for the narrative fences. For a long time, I used Wrote My Way Out from the Hamilton Mixtape. It energized me. Reminded me that the only way out of whatever conundrum I’d gotten my characters or timeline into could only be solved by writing my way out. It also works when I just need to remind myself I love doing this thing (let’s face it: some days we need the reminder).

At other times, I have used a mood song more specific to the work at hand that drops me into the emotions of the characters, the tone of the story, or even the setting. For a manuscript set during the Vietnam War, I would listen to lots of music from the time period. But the song that dropped me into the mood of the story fastest was Ray LaMontagne’s God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise. The song drips longing and that desperate feeling of wanting to get the hard job done to return home as soon as possible to left behind loves. It helped me find the emotional heartbeat of my story every time. For my current manuscript, it’s exile by Taylor Swift featuring Bon Iver. Might seem a little dark for the ultimate story I’m writing that includes lots of fun and games, but it gets me into the complexities of the relationship that is at the heart of the book. I will often listen to it on repeat depending on the scene I’m working on.

Listening to these songs center me whether I am at my desk or sitting at a picnic table during a kid’s soccer practice.¬†These audio cues trigger the part of my brain that is focused on that story. It allows me a short cut back into the work without having to reread an entire chapter or section to get my bearings when time is tight. It also serves as a wake-up call to the muse to let her know it’s time to work and it would be nice if she shows up.

But even if she doesn’t, I’ve got work that needs to get done before the oldest’s drum line practice ends…Batter up!

What song gets you in the zone for writing? Is it specific to your manuscript or more of a generic pump up song? Or, on the flip side, is it a relaxing piece that calms your nerves and steadies your fingers on the keys? `

Published by Monica Cox

Monica is a writer, mom and unabashed Tar Heel.

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