Inspiration by Music

In my last two posts I’ve recounted the time when I’ve been given the blinding silver flash of inspiration by art. Now it’s time for what gets them creative juices flowing more than anything else: Music.

I’m not just talking about what tunes I happen to have playing while I’m writing – that would be the subject of a whole other blog. I’m not big on writing in silence, and certain types of music do seem to get me in a writing mood better than others. No, I’m thinking of a time when live music, a performance that I was actively watching and listening to rather than playing in the background, inspired me. In fact, it not only inspired me, it gave me as close to an out-of-body experience as I’ve ever had.

I can’t exactly remember whether it was 2006 or 2007 (I suspect the former), but a group of friends and I were visiting Dublin. We hit up the Guinness Brewery, the Jameson Distillery, and a bunch of pubs, but between all this culture we did some other stuff as well. We took a Literature tour, which visited all the pubs that Joyce et all drank in. We also took a Music tour, on which we visited four or five pubs to listen to music. At each one, the tour guides would tell us a bit about traditional Irish music, play us a few songs, and have a pint or two.

I think we were on the second or third pub when, as the pipe and fiddle played and the guide sang of love and loss, life and death, and the ancient myths of the land, I swear I actually left the pub and visited that world. I saw the land as it had been, unspoiled green cliffs and mossy rocks overlooking a grey sea. I saw a young man’s heart get broken when he came back to find the girl he’d left behind, and I saw the thin borders between the world of the Tuatha de Danann and the world of mortals fray.

Now, I’ll be candid here; I’d already had a few pints of the black stuff, and this may have helped. However, this is an example of what I mentioned in the last blog – making yourself receptive to inspiration. I’m not suggesting that a gallon or so of fine stout is going to work for everyone, or every time, but there are worse ways to get inspired.

And get inspired I did. I was writing fantasy at the time (as I do a lot of the time), and I’d populated my world with an “evil” race. This was the same world I’d been working on since I was a teenager, so some of the stuff was very archetypal. As I’d gotten older, read more, and written more, I was consciously trying to find ways to move away from archetypes. I hadn’t been thinking about what I could do with this “evil” race, but that Irish music dropped the idea right into my lap. Music became that race’s hook, something to make them more than just goblin substitutes. I saw how their laws and history would be recorded as songs and poems, learned by musicians. How the families and communities would gather to play and listen to music. It would affect the way they spoke, the way they thought of language. And there was more. They became a people who believed in something akin to a fairy realm, and whose old tales and myths were all wound about that concept.

The following day I wrote one of their myths, and started filling in details. From that sprang more myths, more stories. Even naming conventions followed. All from one hazy night of Irish music (and Irish beer).

As ABBA said, ‘Thank you for the music.” Sláinte!


One thought on “Inspiration by Music

  1. I would like to read your thoughts on music you listen to while writing as well. I think you made an important distinction here. We can talk about music that inspires ideas for stories or world building, as well as the effect of music on the actual writing process.

    Also, I’m glad to see there are others out there for whom “listening to music” means they are actually listening to it, not just keeping the background of their life noisy. Think about concerts and symphonies in the time before music was recorded and on demand. Before the Victrola even. What would it have been like to go to a symphony? I doubt people did anything but listen with all their ears. You can’t just replay the song, you know. You have to savor it while it lasts.


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