The neuroscience of writing inspired by music

At the Pen in Pubs session last week, Bob Walton and I led some exercises that explored writing inspired by live sound and music. Nigel, one of the group, wrote this after listening to the beautiful experimental sounds of another participant’s music, and other exercises: – “Incongruous, unconnected, the wrong beat on the right bang. Coming together though now slowly. Harmony arriving on a wave of confidence.”

Bob and I thought this described how the creative process sometimes is: it often comes together if the incongruous and uncomfortable (the ‘wrong beat on the right bang’) is explored. Perhaps it describes some writing workshops too, which push us further on in our creative journeys? Or does it even describe progress as a whole? It’s uncomfortable to push our heads out of our cosy comfort zones, but can lead to extraordinary new inventions, ideas and creations.

I am not promoting the idea of deconstructing people’s souls in order to reach finer art, which some drama schools believe in, but just finding ways to take risks in a safe environment. In the end if we can bring confidence to a writer, I am happy. After writing about these ideas to a neuroscientist friend of mine, he wrote back to say,

“It makes complete sense to me. I personally tend to look at these kind of things from the way the brain seems to work, then work onward/back from there. What you describe here is what I would consider a change of ‘state’, or moving from one brain network to another. When I mean ‘state’ I do not refer to consciousness or unconsciousness, but modulations and alterations in our own; awareness, mood, emotion, engagement, memory recall, perception etc.”

“We do this all the time, without often being aware of moving or changes from one to the other. It makes sense that the more you explore using the different networks in your brain, the more creative capacity you might have to interpret exactly the same sensory inputs (sounds, words, music etc.). It is a 2-way process; creative sound/music can alter brain states; creative brain states can help create conditions for creative writing.”

“Over time, the brain can of course create and develop new and novel networks using exactly the same neural networks, but in different orders or degrees. There is no element in the brain that says complete order should necessarily be better than some degree of disorder – its is largely habitual and cultural than we associate 4/4 time as being ‘right’. Other more random musical orders can in fact have more depth and meaning than something which sounds always even.”

“As with all music, its interpretation is subjective of course. Complicated by the fact that musical scales are often culturally biased & based with Eastern music using very few notes at all to reach the same degree of listening pleasure as an extensive Western classical musical scale. I am sure you are right that if writers can learn to move to creative and productive states using mediums like music, without the need for self-criticism/drugs/drink/self-harm, their writing confidence should naturally improve…. win;win :)” IMG_9494