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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Music to guide us


In our world, we multitask. 

Facebook and other social media send us alerts during the workday; and often we have a peek at the message. The phone rings (or buzzes, or plays a melody, or quacks, or honks) while we are talking to a friend and we check to see who is calling. As parents, we are masters of listening to one kid monologue about a space station he is developing while the other explains that she’s not sure her best friend likes her as much as she did the day before yesterday – all while we are picking up a trail of jackets, scarves, and lunchboxes and deciding where they should go. 

I bring this up because my son’s principal told me the other day that kids can’t keep track of reading two fiction books at once. Something felt wrong, though at first glance it seemed a reasonable comment. We all pretty much read one book at a time. Most of us have a pile of books on our bedside, but we only have bookmarks in one (or two: but the other is the one that we will likely never finish because it's boring.) Books are one-at-a-time. It does make you think that maybe our brains can't follow two (or four, or six) complicated plots at once.

But think about your friends. They are always telling you long intricate stories and you pretty much know which one of them is suffering a hideous divorce, and which one has the ailing mother, and which one is going to tell you about her "awful" job that pays $500K/year. 

Well, maybe they're all minor characters in your ONE story of your life. That's possible. Novels often have divergent threads of narrative that go nowhere.

But what about television (when you used to have time for that) – ? Before having kids, I kept track of the plots and multiple characters in Friends, Seinfeld, Mad about You, who knows how many other shows…I had no trouble with that. So why do we have this notion that we can’t read more than one book at a time?

Or work on more than one project at a time?

This is me, thinking on paper. But it seems to me that what let us get from one show to the other was something concrete. Namely: the theme song. I mean, listen for that sproingy jazz riff at the head of Seinfeld and the characters of Kramer, and all the rest just leap into your head. Same goes for a glimpse of…anything. Name your magic: Gilligan’s Island, Blossom, Greatest American Hero, Full House, Andy Griffith Show, King of the Hill. You play some music and your brain clicks in.

Can we do this with our writing? Can we condition ourselves to get “in the mood” for writing our novels this way? Leaping right back in, after a 30 second intro? Maybe one song would drive us nuts. But how about this--choosing one single playlist to put on repeat or shuffle through for the duration of the writing, so that any of the songs on the list will throw you right back into the scene you were working on when the timer went off reminding you that Jeremy needs to be picked up from school and brought to jazz yoga.

We are Pavlovian creatures and music plays on us. That’s a fact. Why can’t we use this to our advantage as busy, harried writers with very little time?

I want to believe so. Anyone who has experience with this, comment or write to me. I’m dying to know if this will work. I might even try it at home.

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