Music and Memoir

Music is powerful. Songs have the ability to transport us back in time, to stir up long lost emotions and memories. Music can also be an amazingly helpful tool to use while writing, particularly when it comes to writing memoir.

A while back, I decided to go through my iTunes library and make a few playlists for my memoir. I created a playlist for each couple of years of my life that the memoir would be including as well as a single soundtrack for the entire book.

Just going through some of the songs I hadn’t listened to in years brought back old emotions and memories. Some of them were painful, but the experience was important. Anything you can do to put yourself back in the time and place you’re writing about will lend to the authenticity of the moment and your narrative voice.

Take notes while you’re listening to music to make sure you don’t forget what it brings out. Sometimes a memory can resurface for just a moment before it gets lost again. It also helps to journal about any painful feelings the music brings out to get a better idea of why it’s making you react the way it is. Those insights can even be included in your memoir.

If I feel stuck while working on my memoir, it really helps me to listen to the music from my memoir playlists. I recommend making about four or five separate playlists for each section of the book and one overall soundtrack for the project of about 12-15 songs (think one song per chapter or major event).

Putting a soundtrack together can help you understand the structure and flow of your work in a new way. Play around with the order of the songs and see whether rearranging them makes you think of your current structure differently. Pretend your memoir is a movie with the opening credits song being your first scene or prologue and continue on all the way to the closing credits. If nothing else, it’s a fun way to brainstorm and reconnect to your past.

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Now for some exciting news: on Wednesday, September 21st, I will be posting an interview I did with Stephen Markley, author of Publish This Book. He answers questions about memoir, the publishing industry, and more. I will also be giving away a copy of his memoir to one lucky commenter. Be sure to stop by on Wednesday to check it out!

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5 replies to “Music and Memoir”

  1. Emma says:

    Very cool idea! Several songs made their way into my memoir, but I wish I had thought of playlists while I was working on the manuscript!

  2. Alana says:Author

    Thanks, Emma! I should have mentioned the idea of incorporating songs into your memoir too. Maybe another time.

  3. AJ Borowsky says:

    First let me say nice picture. I still listen to Tori’s old stuff a lot. Secondly what a good idea. I wish I had listened to more music while writing my book. While not a memoir there is quite a bit about my experiences in there and the music would have helped. Next time!

    1. Alana says:Author

      I used Tori’s picture because “Little Earthquakes” was the first album I ever really fell in love with and has a big part in my memoir. I’m glad you found the idea helpful. Always good to have some new tricks for the next one!

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