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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Adam

Interlude: Classical Music

I am back on deadline with line edits for LARK AND THE WILD HUNT, so my next book projects have been shifted aside for a couple of weeks. (I'll talk more about this process in later posts). But it seemed like a good time to answer a (two-part) question I've been asked several times over the last month: Do I listen to music while writing? (Do I have a soundtrack or play list for my books?)

The short answer is... sort of? Not really but sometimes?

The long answer goes like this:

Not while I'm drafting. When I'm writing, I prefer to work in total silence. I hear the rhythm of the words in my head, the tone and cadence of my characters' dialogue. I hear the sound of my own narration as I translate the images I see onto the page, and listening to music (or too much background noise) is intensely distracting for me.

However, while I'm brainstorming or driving back and forth to the barn, I do sometimes listen to music that feels appropriate for whatever project I'm thinking about at the time. I have very informal and random play lists that probably wouldn't mean anything to anyone else, but which evoke particular memories or moods for me personally. Listening to them between writing sessions can offer fresh inspiration or help me pick up a lost story thread.

What sort of music do you listen to?

This is what I really want to talk about today, because I've recently discovered that even if I like to write in silence, I LOVE listening to classical music while I edit. Something about classical music helps me concentrate on the granular details of editing; it focuses my mind so I can work more efficiently.

But my history with classical music is bittersweet.

Some readers of this blog will know that I was obsessed with ballet from a very young age. I loved its precision, elegance, and challenge. I desperately wanted to be a professional ballerina (with horses, and when I retired I planned to write books. At least two of those things have come true! ;)) and I was fortunate enough to have the physical capabilities and body structure to pursue that ambition. But for a number of family reasons it eventually became clear that attending a prestigious ballet school or summer intensive was out of the question, and a professional career would be impossible.

I was heartbroken. And though I continued to dance informally through casual park district classes, it was not the same. I missed serious ballet terribly - and I started to hate classical music. It reminded me too much of all that I had lost, of everything that was forever out of reach. I was a teen of the 90s who had always had eclectic musical tastes, but I became fascinated with indie "grunge rock" and garage bands, with alternate rock and hard rock. The angrier the better. I'd grown up with classic rock, so that was always in the mix, too - with rare country albums (Chris Ledoux, Garth Brooks, and Kenny Rogers) and Broadway musical soundtracks to lighten things up. But I avoided classical music completely.

Once I met my husband and moved to his farm, the musical background of my life settled in to country almost exclusively, except when our kids were young and the house was filled with Disney soundtracks, too. I continued to ignore classical music (unless it was Vivaldi's Four Seasons, which always reminds me of holiday nostalgia because my parents played it every Thanksgiving and Christmas).

My tastes softened and turned quieter as I got older, and I started to prefer silence as often as not.

And then a couple of years ago a writer friend invited me to a performance of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and I eagerly agreed. When the first notes filled beautiful Powell Hall, I had to wipe away tears. I hadn't heard anything so lovely for decades and oh, I had not realized how much I missed it. I still missed ballet - but the wisdom of years and lived experience softens those early disappointments and lends perspective to broken dreams and lost wishes. For the first time in years, I found that I could listen to classical music without regret.

(Powell Hall at Christmas)

I'd built new dreams, you see.

So, now I listen to classical music more often than anything else. I do feel moments of wistfulness when I hear a movement from one of the ballet variations I still remember, or when I listen to the pieces our old pianist used to play in the studio during classes. But those memories finally bring joy rather than sorrow.

And I have been thrilled to discover just how useful it is to my editing process!!

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