Except for a short-lived phase after college, I pretty much always listen to music while I write. I like the mental space it gives me from wherever I’m writing, whether I’m at home, my office, a coffee shop, or where have you. Music also creates a specific emotional environment for me, so my choice of music can help me get into the mood of a manuscript, scene, or character.
Particular albums or artists are permanently locked in my brain with particular book projects. I listened repeatedly to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack for The Social Network when working on a steampunk novel with a lot of underhanded dealings and covert operations. My World War II zombie book required long stretches of sadness and anger, so I found myself moving between Max Richter’s studio albums, James Newton Howard’s soundtrack for Defiance, and Crystal Castles’ later work, especially (III) and Amnesty. My portal fantasy novel included several scenes where characters are listening to post-rock bands like Hammock and MONO, so naturally I listened to them frequently when writing the book.
For whatever reason, I’m gravitating to epic soundtrack music while editing my pirate fantasy novel. And not necessarily the well-regarded stuff, although I listen to my share of Two Steps from Hell. More often than not, though, I’m on YouTube searching for “2 hours epic soundtrack music” and clicking on the playlists with the DeviantArt-esque fan fiction pictures. (The user Pandora Journey has some excellent playlists, if this kind of thing is your jam.)
Listening to epic soundtrack music makes sense when I’m working on, say, a scene with shape-shifting magicians, or giant sea snakes, or gunslinging pirates. But most of the scenes I’ve been editing lately are quieter: New World bureaucrats talking about maps and taxation, priests performing funerals, characters grieving the loss of family members. Not exactly the stuff where one would expect a full choir and orchestra worthy of Gandalf and the balrog facing off on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. I’ve tried turning on quieter music but sooner or later (and usually sooner) I find myself returning to my epic soundtrack playlists.
The book is epic in scale, the sort of project that ballooned tens of thousands of words longer than expected in drafting, and in editing so far we don’t seem to be making it any shorter. It’s multigenerational and deals with big issues like colonialism, race, power, wealth, ownership, and a mess of other things that we probably actually aren’t qualified to talk about. And even before the first draft was finished we were talking about a potential trilogy and other spin-off series.
So perhaps what I’m listening to makes sense even during the slower parts of the manuscript. In any case, epic soundtrack music seems to be getting me into the mental and emotional space I need to be to edit this book, so I see no reason to get off this train just yet.