a writing ritual revisited: music

Friday, May 25, 2018 (updated 12/23/2021)

I know. This is a lazy, alliterative title, many of which you may find in the archives on this blog. But I have re-writes and revisions to do. The ideas and notes that started last October are turning into actual sentences and paragraphs that have been missing from the manuscript for years; and I didn’t know how or where to put these words until this week.

As of late, I’ve been corresponding with a handful of people for some historical and musical context in my novel. In discussing music with Donny Olewinski and Dan Knewitz (two 90s grunge nerds I am fortunate to have in my orbit), I shared with them a theory (to be discussed elsewhere on this blog) that I am playing with about the subliminal influence that Alice in Chains’ 1992 EP Sap may have had on some of the images and themes in the novel:

The correspondence with Donny and Dan got me thinking about the role music has played in my writing rituals and how I listen to music while writing.

I listened to Recipe for Hate on the way to work today because in my mind it’s associated with the Friday writing ritual I had in undergrad (namely 1998-1999). I would listen to this album on my Discman Fridays as I walked to Café Matisse to write longhand. Its slashing punk riffs acted collectively as some sort of fight song:

By the time I actually sat down to write, though, I would play these classical and jazz albums, or something very similar:



Why? you might ask. Maybe because the lack of lyrics in these albums allowed me mental space to write a little better. I was, after all, writing in longhand; when I put pen to paper, it was only after several minutes of serious consideration. This isn’t to say that what I put down was perfection. Not by a damn sight. But the music itself allowed for meditation and access to the muse.

In 2000, around the time I got my first reliable laptop computer and started typing my journals, the music ritual changed. And it would entrench itself over the next decade or so. A session of writing was almost always begun with this album:


It is so loud and raw that you may wonder how any writing could come from listening to this. But the music (not necessarily the lyrics) reflected the point of freewrites for me: loud and raw. This isn’t to say that the music itself  is raw, as it seems extremely proficient to me; but it is to say that it evokes some pretty raw emotion and thought. Perfect for freewriting. Besides, it sure as shit drowned out any distracting chatter in the places I wrote. Other albums that came into the mix over time were:

STP Core






Tool Lateralus




Tool’s music was the only of the set listed above that powerfully resonated with me in both musical and lyrical ways. With the exception of how AEnima and Lateralus may have affected the images and themes I was trying to conjure, the hard nature of all this music must have been a way for me to drown out the nagging self-doubt that often leads a person not to even write in the first place. This self-doubt is commonly referred to as “writer’s block.”

I was late to the Chris Cornell scene, but the albums below (and other albums from these bands) entered the rotation ~2007 and helped drown out the self-doubt (and certainly inspired me with their arresting lyrics):





As the book began to take shape in 2004, my writing ritual evolved: I began to divide my time between freewrites and more conscious edits, though the circular-reflexive nature of writing (writing and revising and then revising and writing) made a distinct line quite impossible to delineate. In later stages of drafting a need arose for me to access that meditative quality from my Café Matisse days. Since that was the case, my editing sessions included some of the finest music I could get my hands on:


Most of what I do these days has to do with careful rewrites and edits. I lean a little more toward the meditative side. Maybe that’s because I am getting old. Whatever the case may be, I have discovered a happy medium between the well-worn paths of rule-breaking freewrites and the more meditative qualities of crafting, molding, shaping words and sentences and ideas: a string quartet rendering some of my favorite hard sounds:


One thought on “a writing ritual revisited: music

  1. Pingback: writing ritual – music | nick holmberg

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