Thursday, February 18, 2016

Writing to Music

The other day I found myself listening to Compass by Zella Day on Spotify, my streaming music service of choice, and thought to myself this is perfect for my Finding Daylight playlist. 

I excitedly included it, and then realized somewhat belatedly that Finding Daylight has been published for over a month now. It had its one-month of publication birthday on February 15th. I'm done writing it. There's nothing else that is going to happen there. Literally. Finished. In print. Purged from my brain in all ways.

Although...apparently not so much.

I write to music a lot of the time. Writing in deafening silence is weird to me--just surrounded by the clacking of my fingers on a keyboard is no way to spend all of my creative moments.

The same can be said for my work as an archivist. Put me in a cement basement bunker by myself--which is the case with my job sometimes--and I'm not going to remain in silence for long. Process a collection silently? I think not.

So I write to music. But it can't be any music. Too much of any one genre will drive me utterly crazy, too much of any one artist will start to wear thin. The music has to be curated to fit the story, otherwise the writing will wind up suffering, my characters will wind up suffering, all because I just can't listen to alt-J anymore, okay? I just can't.

For me, curating music for a playlist comes down to characters. I like the interaction of people in songs, the situations they represent, and I like to match that up to my characters as they go through the story I'm fashioning for them. If you listen to the Finding Daylight playlist, you can almost see what the book is about and feel out what's happening as it goes along from beginning to end. The playlist matches the highs and the lows, how each character feels about the situation and about each other.

That's what I love about playlists. Even better? It helps keep me on track with a characters' motivations, their feelings, and their arc--where they're going from one section to the next. Could an outline be just as helpful? Sure. And it is, definitely. But hearing it play out as I'm neck deep in writing is another plane of reminders, and that can't be beat.

At least, not for me.

The Finding Daylight playlist keeps growing, even when I'm finished with the story and curating yet another playlist for All Heart. I'm in the middle of writing the story, and the playlist is a little thing yet. It's growing as the story grows, songs added in when I need them. Eventually it will mirror the novel, beginning to end, but it doesn't need to be that right now. It just needs to keep me on the path.


Mara Dabrishus is an author and librarian at a small college in Northeast Ohio. Horse racing is her first great love, but for the past several years she's ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight. Her second novel (gasp!), Finding Daylight, was released in January 2016. For more information, please visit


  1. I can understand the desire to eliminate the deafening silence.
    I'm afraid to admit I have never heard any of the songs you are listing. Sorry. Glad they help you with your writing/story/characters!

    1. No one likes deafening silence! I ran across most of these songs through Spotify's discovery playlists--there's so much out there!

  2. Interesting! I love doing many tasks to music, but hadn't considered writing. I guess I get caught up so much in the lyrics of songs, it can distract me from my writing! Alternatively, I can find that lyrics of a song can prompt me to write a scene or give an idea for a story!

    1. I tend to kick the lyrics of the song to the back of my head when I'm writing--I just compartmentalize the two so I find the song itself inspiring without getting distracted. Although if I'm super deep into writing very little will pull me out!