Music: Distraction or Inspiration?

My husband, who is also a writer, likes to write in the dead of night, free from all distractions and possible interruptions. He doesn’t put on his headphones, and he writes in bed (an annoyance that’s right up there with crumbs in the sheets!). I will sometimes wake up at four in the morning and he’ll be laid out flat on his stomach, typing away furiously at his novel (it’s a spy thriller in 3, or is it 4?, parts).

I don’t get that.

I prefer mornings, early, when the world is still asleep. And I want the pleasure of music while I write, because it does inspire me, a great deal. But I’m very particular about what music I listen to, when I’m writing or otherwise. I watched the Grammys and wasn’t inspired, except for Imagine Dragons, which was awesome. I have been on a quest to find new music to add to my collection, and it’s been a long haul. There’s so much crap to sift through—so much commercial and popular debris that clutters the music world (I’m looking for alternative and rock music. Pearl Jam is back! Woohoo!)—that finding the next R.E.M. seems to be a herculean task. Not impossible, though.

From Imagine Dragons, Florence and the Machine, Brett Dennen to Mumford & Sons (in particular, Hopeless Wanderer), I’m startled at both the simplicity and depth of their lyrics. From simple love songs to political and social commentary, each song is a book in itself, a story told with a heartbeat and rhythm. The words and cadence draw wild pictures in my mind as I read, write, draw or design something. And when I play the songs later, those images come flooding back, along with memories of what I was looking at, doing or working on when I first heard it.

Butterfly Season has been built around one song—Kabhi Hum Khoobsurat Thay (We were beautiful once). The song is a Pakistani classic, derived from a poem or ghazal (a particular form of poetry that exists almost solely in the Subcontinent and Iran. If you’ve heard of Jalaluddin Rumi or Mirza Ghalib, you know what a ghazal is) by Ahmed Shamim. There’s a line in this poem about wanting to depart to the land of butterflies and fireflies, and that’s where the title of my story comes in.

The fact that the song was a ghazal inspired my main character’s name (Rumi). And the plot itself was inspired by Rumi’s lines:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.

I’m waiting for someone to put this poem of Rumi’s to music so that I can listen to it when I write my next book.

Any takers?

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