I find it hard to listen to music while I am writing. It is too distracting, too varied. I get so immersed in the moment that if the song changes to another mood, I get lost. So I don't listen to music WHILE writing.
However, I DO listen to music between writing. This last marathon round of work on DISTILLATION saw me become obsessed with more than my characters and their lives. I make mixed CDs still. Old school, I know. They correspond to playlists on the I-Pod, but it is easier to listen to them in my car. I made a playlist/CD about a month ago, just when I was really riding the wave of DISTILLATION's last 100 pages. Thanks to I-Tunes, I am aware that I love what they call Alt. Country: Neko Case, Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch etc. Some of it more blue grass, some of it more general singer song writer. But I made this mix that was mostly Gillian Welch, a combination of her new and old stuff. And I still can't stop listening to it. My husband immediately was sick of it. He said the songs all sounded the same. I disagree. But they do all have a similar dark, haunting, melancholy element to them. And they bring me to a place where the the images and the themes of my novel are able to thrive.
What I find is that I fixate on mood in a song. A particular line will speak to me and ring in some way of the story that is going through my head. My vision may not have anything to do with the story of the song itself, but the combination of the mood and the lyric help add texture to the picture in my mind.
For example: The song "Elvis Presley Blues" by Gillian Welch, which has no connection to my story's plot, has a line "he shook it and he rang like silver, he shook it and he shined like gold...well, bless my soul, well bless my soul..." My story deals with the balance between the male and the female using the sun and moon as symbols, as is done in alchemical symbology, and it deals with the reincarnation of souls. Having written the scene in DISTILLATION where the male and female leads are in a field finally getting to business and both the sun and moon are in the sky, one setting, the other rising - I am in my car listening to this song and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. I feel that moment.
Another example is from Welch's new album The Harrow and the Harvest. The song "Dark Turn of Mind" is a song that if I could make a movie of my book, I would include in the sound track. So many of the lyrics bring to mind elements of my story. "I've had trouble already, and it left me with a dark turn of mind. I see the bones in the river, I feel the wind through the pines, and I hear the shadows a calling, to a girl with a dark turn of mind." (song is below)
Lastly, the song "The Way it Goes" from the same album - talks about people all once friends going different ways in life and dealing with darkness of one sort or another. "The brightest ones of all, early in October fall. That's the way that it goes. That's the way. While the good ones go to bed with good whiskey in their head. That's the way that it goes. That's the way." The theme of this song reminds of living in a small town and the things that happen which never go away, the things that change relationships, but still you can never get away because everyone in a small town have to exist in such close proximity. This too shows up in DISTILLATION.
Because of my obsession with this CD, I was able to stay in character so to speak. When driving alone in my car, or cooking dinner, I could immerse myself in the in the emotions and ideas evoked in my novel, by letting the art of another add texture to my imagination.
So how do you use music in your writing?