Thursday, March 08, 2012

Real Creative Juices- Part Four of Four

What type of music do you listen to before you write?  While you write?  Charles Gramlich, PhD. could write a book about this topic.  In fact, send any questions to him!

Why?  Because music changes your body chemistry.

It's the best way to kick in your creative juices.

It changes your blood chemistry, your brain chemistry and kicks your creative mind into gear.  Some researchers believe its a dopamine thing.   The following study linked the feeling of "chills" in listeners to music that really got them going:

"... the number of "chills" the participants got was correlated with the activation specifically in the nucleus accumbens, which suggests that the intense pleasure we get from them is due to dopamine signals in this area.

"The whole things shows that music can produce a nice increase in dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. Whether that's a "high", is another question. They couldn't really quantify what kind of a signal they were getting from the dopamine, other than that they got a significant change. Drugs like cocaine produce increases in dopamine in the nucleus accumbens of up to 300% of baseline, and drugs like meth can go even higher than that. Was intense pleasure when listening to music in the same category? Probably not. But that doesn't mean it doesn't feel good.

"The whole study gives us a nice biological basis for our physical responses to music, but it also raises questions. WHY have be evolved such that music effects us this way? What is the function? Is it just enhancement of emotion? If so, how does that work? Is it familiarity with the music, knowing that a part you like is coming up? Does it have anything to do with language and the tones which we utilize in our voices for things like language?

"We don't have these answers yet, but maybe someday we will. Until then, when you're listening to some great music and get the chills, you know what's happening."
Salimpoor VN, Benovoy M, Larcher K, Dagher A, & Zatorre RJ (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature neuroscience, 14 (2), 257-262 PMID: 21217764

But it begs the question- can the pleasurable effects of music improve our creative writing?  Can music help us be more imaginative?  I believe it is absolutely the most effective method of ramping up the production of  our creative juices.  It's not just the pleasure.  It's the beat.  The beat gets us moving, gets us feeling, switches us over to the side of our brains that works with visual imagery.

Some writers complain that music distracts them from writing.  When I write, the rest of the world disappears.  I can feel music.  I can feel my mind and my body kick into gear.  And then I'm off to that other world.  The world where my story is the measure of reality.  The world where I forget white time it is, what day and month it is.  Music can't distract from that.

Stephen King uses music to get his creative juices going.  In his book on the craft of writing, he even gives us an overview of what he listens to when he writes.  He's still the King (no pun intended) of horror and, oddly enough, what he listens to seems to contribute to that.  He doesn't listen to a lot of Frank Sinatra when he writes.

And it's true- music not only jump-starts production of our creative juices, it can influence what type of writing we produce by influencing our brains.

Consider the following excerpt from a paper by Greg Mackay:

"...a study done by physicist Dr. Harvey Bird from Fairleigh Dickinson University and neurobiologist Dr. Gervasia Schreckenberg from Georgian Court College in Lakewood, NJ. Dr. Bird is very interested in the effects of sound and music on our bodies. I subsequently got a chance to meet Dr. Bird and discuss his work and his theories. He and Dr. Schreckenberg had teamed up to study the effects of music on laboratory mice. They subjected one group of mice to incessant voodoo drum beats, one group to Strauss waltzes and one group was kept in silence. The experiment used music played at low volume so that volume was not a cause for any behavioral changes observed. Over the period of the experiment, they tested the different groups to see how well they could run through a maze to get to their food. This was a measure of their cognitive ability - their ability to remember the maze over time.

Bird and Schreckenberg found that the group that listened to the voodoo music had a very difficult time with the maze that increased over time to the point where they were totally disoriented and unable to complete the maze. The other groups had no problem learning the maze, with an edge given to the mice listening to the waltz music. Even when the mice were given a break from the music for three weeks, the group that had previously listened to the voodoo music "still could not remember how to get to their food, while the others found it quickly with no problem," said Schreckenberg. 

So don't listen to voodoo music when you want to be creative.

Matter of fact, what music do you turn on when you want to get your creative juices flowing?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Knew there was a reason I liked to jam while writing! I listen to progressive rock - anything fast, hard, and heavy.

Rick said...

I'm with you all the way, Alex! Nothing, nothing gets the creative juices flowing like rock.

Rick said...

I'm with you all the way, Alex! Nothing, nothing gets the creative juices flowing like rock.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I like to write in coffeehouses, so I usually just listen to whatever they're playing in there. Usually the music is pretty mellow, nothing too distracting. But it's pleasant enough that I'll sometimes stop and wonder who's singing at that moment. I think that places like Starbucks should also sell CD mixes of the songs that they play, not just ones by individual artists or collaborations.

Bonnee Crawford said...

I find it useful to listen to music which is reflective of the mood and tone I'm trying to write in. If not that, then my usual heavy metal stuff with a hardcore beat usually gets me typing to the hardcore guitar and drum solos... this is probably why I type so fast. :)

G. B. Miller (aka G) said...

I find listening to music while writing to be a major distraction.

As much as I like most forms of music, the only way I can tolerate listening to it is while editing.

Rick said...

I never thought of that, Bonnee! But it's true, the faster the music, the faster I type. Friday Genius award to you.

Rick said...

Hi G! For those that can't tolerate music while writing, the prescription is to listen to it an hour before writing.

By the way, one writer I know is actually allergic to music. He breaks out in a rash while listening to Maroon 5. Partial swelling of the left side of his face. When this happens his wife puts on music by Beyonce and he gets better immediately. Especially if he gets to watch her videos.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't listen to a lot of music 'while' I write, but I listen to it before. I like energizing music, rock and metal. It pumps up the testosterone, I guess. Gets the blood and juices flowing.

Rick said...

Reminds me of exercising while watching movies like The Terminator, Charles.

Travis Cody said...

I like the idea of listening to music well before I begin writing. I can't have it on when I'm trying to write something though...much too distracting. I start thinking about the music and lose track of what I want to write.

Crack You Whip said...

I listen to music before I write and it does help. I am not talented enough to listen to it while I write. That would fall into multi-tasking, which I cannot do.

Rick said...

Travis, how about having a movie on when you're writing, or just TV in the background? Does that distract you? Ever have the problem of too much quiet?

Rick said...

Since your screen name is Crack You Whip, I'm going to pay attention! Multi-tasking is bad.

Travis Cody said...

If I'm serious about writing, I need to minimize distractions.

I can multitask at work all day and finish stuff I need to finish. But when it comes to writing, I really struggle with staying on point and keeping focused on what I'm trying to do.

The distractions become too much of an influence and the flow of my writing suffers.

G. B. Miller (aka G) said...

My 11 year old daughter is one of the few pre-teens who gets a rash just listening to Justin Beiber.

Rick said...

How about listening to music an hour before, Travis?

Rick said...

I see a great future for your daughter, G!