Photo by Andrew Schwartz – © 2014 The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved.
There is this one question that makes me uncomfortable when people get around to asking it. I know, somewhere down the line, at some point, they will ask it. The moment is inevitable. I half-hope that they don’t, almost believe that they won’t, and then, it comes:
“What type of music do you listen to?”
Me: “I don’t know.” “Um, everything.” “I don’t really have a type.”
I act as if someone asked me about my dating life, or my favorite movie. Or anything that has more than three choices because I’m beyond indecisive.
The question distresses me for no apparent reason other than the fact that I never know how to answer because I don’t know the answer. The music I listen to varies from day-to-day, my mood, my surroundings, but overall, I enjoy most of what I hear, whether it be through the radio, Spotify, or someone else’s playlist.
Yet music has this profound influence on my writing. Specific songs entrance me, drive my writing, and inspire me to explore unknown terrains.
The first time I heard “Lost Stars” by Adam Levine I was at a friend’s house, lounging on their couch, wrapped in a comfy blanket watching the beautiful and heart-rending movie, Begin Again. The way the song captivated the characters, their movements, and their souls—it was inspiring, enticing, and spellbinding.
An obsession overcame me. Adam Levine’s voice, the heart-searching lyrics, the resonating music. I was cast under its spell, and its control hit replay over and over. I don’t know what sparked the intense fixation—the lyrics and message it was conveying, the sounds and notes connecting on some subconscious level.
It inspired me later that summer, after the obsession started drifting towards just an above average liking.
My writing was stuck in limbo, lost and floundering, the words unwilling to spill out of my mind and fingers. Months had passed since I completed the previous novel project, a rough draft that I didn’t have any desire to revisit for the time being.
My mind was a void, empty of words and creativity. No creative endeavor that I could scratch at the surface. No big, overarching, time-consuming novel to spend countless hours dreaming, living, and breathing.
Until I heard “Lost Stars.”
God, tell us the reason youth is wasted on the young
It’s hunting season and the lambs are on the run
Searching for meaning
But are we all lost stars, trying to light up the dark?
It stimulated my creativity. I devoted much of my free time sitting in a coffee shop with my laptop, a notebook, and a pencil, savoring cups of coffee and the occasional—often—sweet (usually a cookie).
I created a fantasy world with elves, mermaids, and the like. I drew out a map of where my characters resided, erased and redrew when I changed the history and the world. I researched myths and lore, historical references, and origins of names. “Lost Stars” was the temporary title bestowed to it at the beginning of the project, and remains so now, completed 23 chapters later.
Before beginning this novel idea, I had completed shitty first drafts of three novels. This was the first time I dedicated time to plotting and planning before diving straight into the writing.
“Lost Stars” inspired me to create a world and its characters, their motivations and desires, a simple plot outline, and potential scenes. The song motivated me to want to use its influence on my writing.
The two main characters are driven by the song lyrics. They, like Gretta and Dave, are lost stars. Each is trying to find their place in the world, searching for meaning. They struggle through their own journeys along with their physical ones, and continue to want to find their place in the world I created.
Whenever I faced a rut in the writing process, I would listen to the song, I would hear my characters speaking to me and guiding me on their own lost, stumbling journeys. It helped show me their way, their futures, and their fates.
The ending scene of the novel was written before I was halfway through. The lyrics stirred my creative muse:
Please don’t see just a boy caught up in dreams and fantasies
Please see me reaching out for someone I can’t see
Take my hand let’s see where we wake up tomorrow
Using part of the lyrics in the dialogue, one of the main characters encourages the other to come out of their mental haze, to hold on for tomorrow, and see where it will lead them, together.
“Lost Stars” framed the entire novel, its lyrics and notes influencing me in ways that I never thought music could. It guided the characters on their lost, soul-searching journeys, and the story they tell would not be the same if it weren’t for the song’s influence.
This isn’t the first writing project that has been influenced by a specific song, but it’s the one that pushed my creativity and my writing the most. I’ve created a piece of work that I’m excited about revisiting, exploring more in-depth, and sharing with the world.
Despite my inability to confine and label the music I enjoy, there is something about music that inspires my creativity. Sometimes it just takes one note or lyric phrase that sparks the muse.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to email@example.com and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**