On the importance of playlists

I spent part of my precious, kid-free work time this morning putting together a new playlist for the third book of this series. This may seem like a waste of work time to some but a carefully composed playlist is actually an essential part of my writing process. Once I’ve put together the correct combination of songs that particular playlist will come to embody the overall tone of the book. Sometimes the songs influence the book and sometimes it’s the other way around, but either way the playlist eventually comes to epitomize the feeling of the book to me.

Usually I start off with an 8-10 song playlist and then I add to it as I get further into the novel until I’ve got about 20-25 songs that I listen to while I write. Every time I sit down at my laptop that playlist brings me right back into the story and the overall emotional arc of Maddy’s character. When I get to a point where the writing feels stuck or stale, I’ll put the playlist on my iPod and just listen to the music while I run errands or bake something in the kitchen. If I let my mind wander while still staying inside Maddy’s world through the music the next piece of the story will usually occur to me.

What I often find when I’m done with the first draft is that all of the songs seem to address one central feeling in some way. The first novel, Black Wings, has a lot of humor and a lot of action, but I feel that the core emotion of the book is really about sadness and loss. The first song that summed up Black Wings for me was Sarah McLachlan’s “Full of Grace” and that set the tone for the pretty much the whole playlist and the whole book.

The second novel, Black Night (which is in revisions now) has a about the same amount of action and humor, but I think that there is more darkness in the story, and the core emotion of the book is jealousy. Naturally, The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” became the anthem of that book. In fact, when I was writing one particular chapter I just put that one song on repeat until the chapter was done.

So I’ve put together my playlist for book three. Now on to the writing.