There are a number of things that tend to surprise people about how I write. One is that, for the most part, I write out of order and without an outline.
The other surprise is that I listen to music while I write.
I know I’m not alone in doing this. But, for people who don’t write, it often surprises them that I can write with music playing, a seeming distraction from what I’m doing.
For me, though, the music helps.
While writing the very dark Tacoma stories that ultimately made up my as-yet-unpublished novel Circus Vargas, for instance, I listened to Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. I listened to them over and over, often at the highest volume my ears would allow.
And yet it’s worth noting that, for reasons I’ll never understand, I don’t much listen to the lyrics of songs. This is not limited to listening to music while writing; this is a reality whenever I listen to music.
I find no interest in the insights, imagery or possible meaning of the words to any songs I listen to.
I read Gravity’s Rainbow recently, and even struggled to pay attention to the song lyrics that permeate the book. The same words, set as prose, would have interested me more.
It’s not surprising, I guess, that some of my favorite music, especially while writing, is singer-less (lyric-less? I’m resisting the word “instrumental,” which evokes Muzak and Lawrence Welk) music like Bitches Brew and ambient Brian Eno and Aphex Twin.
Over the past decade, I’ve started listening to the dark, orchestral (and vaguely pretentious) music of Godspeed You Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt Zion Orchestra. There are songs of theirs that I’ve listened repeatedly, more times than seems possible, while writing.
I’m listening to Silver Mt Zion now. “Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom.”
It’s part of the loose playlist I put together to go with Shimmer. Music I listened to while writing and editing the book. Music that, it seems to me now, goes well with the book.
I’ve even managed to copy and paste the list here. It’s in order, by the way, the music following the changes in the novel.
Song Band Album Lichen Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2 Disc 2 2/2 Brian Eno/Brian Eno Ambient 1: Music for Airports Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom A Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band With Choir This Is Our Punk-Rock, These Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing Talk Show Host Radiohead Romeo + Juliet Friday Miles Miles Davis At Fillmore [UK] Disc 2 The Dharma At Big Sur, Part I: A New Day BBC Symphony Orchestra, John Adams & Tracy Silverman Adams: The Dharma At Big Sur – My Father Knew Charles Ives Dirty Harry Gorillaz Demon Days Storm: Levez Vos Skinny Fists Comme Antennas to Heaven; Gathering Storm Godspeed You Black Emperor! Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven Disc 1 How to Disappear Completely Radiohead Kid A Greentone Accelera Deck Hamlet  Half Day Closing Portishead Portishead Strange Overtones David Byrne and Brian Eno Everything That Happens Will Happen Today Spain Never Made It Foundry Field Recordings Prompts/Miscues Rabbit in Your Headlights U.N.K.L.E. Psyence Fiction This Time The Smashing Pumpkins MACHINA/The Machines of God Bell Bottom Blues Derek & The Dominos Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs Someone Saved My Life Tonight Elton John Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys Traffic The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys Everlong (Live) Foo Fighters Skin and Bones [Live] Fragile God Is an Astronaut All Is Violent, All Is Bright Steam Engine My Morning Jacket It Still Moves New World Björk Selmasongs: Music From the Motion Picture Soundtrack Dancer in the Dark For the Beauty of Wynona Daniel Lanois For The Beauty of Wynona Jane Says Jane’s Addiction Nothing’s Shocking Secret World Peter Gabriel Us Release Pearl Jam Ten Breaking the Girl The Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik Road Out West Vending Machine 5 Piece Kit In the Light Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti Skinny Love Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago Special Cases Massive Attack 100th Window Goodbye Blue Sky Pink Floyd The Wall O’Rang ‘O’Rang Herd of Instinct Echoes Pink Floyd Meddle I Will Sing You Songs My Morning Jacket It Still Moves Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll) George Harrison All Things Must Pass Disc 1 We Dance Pavement Wowee Zowee Butterfly Donavon Frankenreiter The Abbey Road Sessions (Live) Reckoner Radiohead In Rainbows Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World U2 Achtung Baby Summer Breeze The Isley Brothers The Ultimate Isley Brothers