Author Features On Writing

Writing with Music on the Mind

By Jessica Pennington

With a title like Love Songs & Other Lies, it’s probably not a surprise that music plays a big role in my book. A huge role. But it was also a huge help in writing the book. The entire story, in fact, was born from a song I heard on the radio one day: “Say Something” by A Great Big World. It’s a breakup song, but it’s also a love song—a plea from one person to another to give them a reason to stay when they know in their heart they should leave.

The very first words I wrote of Love Songs & Other Lies were a breakup scene. I wanted to recreate the feeling of that song for readers—make them scream at the characters for not being able to figure their problems out, when it’s so clear how much they love each other. But once I broke them up, I had to figure out everything else, from the beginning. Who the characters were, and what had brought them to that moment.

Music played just as big a role in my writing process as it does in the book itself, so here are some of the ways I used it to push me through writing my debut novel.

 

1. A Curated Drafting Playlist

One of the most frequent ways I use music while writing, is to set the mood. I have a curated playlist for each project I work on, tailored to that story. These are songs that remind me of specific scenes, or characters, or center around a theme like falling in love, breaking up or taking chances (all themes I love to write about). It’s amazing how many playlists are already hanging around on services like Spotify, but I almost always make a custom list, taking off songs that don’t quite fit for me, and adding ones that do. I make as many edits to my playlist along the way as I do my book!

2. Emotion-specific Playlists

Sometimes it wasn’t enough to have a playlist that set the mood for the book, and I needed something more specific to me, to get my head in the right place. For Love Songs & Other Lies, I really wanted to create the kind of raw, angsty emotions I remember having as a teenager. The kind that engulf you late at night, and feel like they may swallow you whole. So instead of playing current music, I created a playlist from my teen years. The songs that played at school dances, the songs that remind me of my teen crushes. So when I was writing the THEN timeline—when the characters are in their senior year of high school—I liked to write to that curated high school playlist, getting in the mindset of my seventeen-year-old self. It’s amazing how music can transport you, if you let it.

3. Fighting writer’s block

There are scenes in Love Songs & Other Lies that would likely never be there, had I not been listening to music. And they’re some of my favorites. I love to use the lyrics of songs as writing prompts, and challenge myself to take a line or a verse and turn it into a scene. If you’re ever stuck, rather than stare at your computer, turn on something random and start writing in response to the lyrics.

4. The Perfect Title

When I’m stumped on a title—which honestly, is just about any time I start thinking of title ideas—I love to turn to album and song titles for inspiration. I’ll use a keyword search like ‘summer’ or ‘lies’ and look through hundreds and hundreds of song and album titles, seeing if anything jumps out at me that I can use as inspiration for a title. The original working title for Love Songs & Other Lies was Second Chance Serenade, and I got the idea from a band name that popped up on Pandora one day, Secondhand Serenade. This also works great with lyrics!

 

Check out the full playlist for Love Songs & Other Lies:

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