NOTE: This piece originally published on Medium’s Writers Blokke.
Heavy metal makes me a better writer.
I understand writers who need absolute silence to get their work done. Really, I do. But I’m not that guy. I even understand writers who say that while they don’t mind listening to music as they work, it has to be completely instrumental — because lyrics throw them off and bleed into their work and they can’t afford the distraction.
I can’t work in silence. It’s deafening and distracting and I have trouble getting out of my own head when I’m surrounded by complete quiet. Instrumentals are nice — I have a playlist from superhero movie soundtracks that sometimes does the trick. But I find I crank out the words best when I’m listening to something loud, hard, and heavy.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve fallen in love with metal. What started with System of a Down when I was in college has now grown to the likes of Gojira, Behemoth, Septicflesh, Scars on Broadway, Unleash the Archers, Spiritbox, and my current musical obsession, Jinjer.
In fact, if you got a glimpse of my writing playlist — the very playlist I have on as I type this article — you’ll see most of the bands I mentioned above. My playlist is three hours of screaming badassery that helps me get over my bad days and gives me the creative kick in the pants I often need.
See, I can’t listen to metal without being energized into doing something. There’s an adrenaline rush that comes with this genre of music, and more often than not, I need that push to get off my butt and do whatever it is I need to do.
Example: one Friday this past summer, I was up far earlier than I’d ever want to be up (we’re talking up-before-the-sun up early) for a work event that had been stressing me out for more than a month. I was tired, cranky, and generally dreading the day. Even the energy drink I had inhaled wasn’t doing much.
But as I got closer to the hotel where this event was happening, SiriusXM played “Mediator,” the Jinjer track that had just dropped. Hearing that song, I knew I was going to have a good day and suddenly found myself looking forward to the day.
(Spoiler alert: the event was a success and the day was a blast.)
Lesson? Trust the metal gods.
Often, the adrenaline rush that metal gives me is all I need to a) get started on a writing session, and b) push through the rest of the session if I feel myself starting to wane. The energy this genre of music gives me is often all I need to push through the doubt and the guilt and the questions and just…get the [bleep] words down.
No other genre of music does that for me. Metal carries me through, like I’ve jumped into a mosh pit and everyone’s carrying me along without letting me touch the ground. Those hands, that music, are the energy and motivation to keep my fingers moving along the keyboard — the kick in the proverbial pants to tell my inner critic to shut up because I have words to make.
Metal can also inspire story ideas. Take Unleash the Archers’ album Abyss; it’s literally a story being told over the course of 10 songs — and one of those songs, “Cleanse the Bloodlines,” inspired a high fantasy short story/novella that I’ve been tinkering with for a few months now (I say tinkering because it’s a genre I’m not all that familiar with and it’s very much a work-in-progress).
Even if it’s a simple lyric — “The morning greetings of a rooster are replaced with ‘Fire in a hole!’” (“Home Back” by Jinjer) or “Feel the weight of a martyr/It could all be yours if you echo birds of prey” (“Circle With Me” by Spiritbox) — I’ve learned to appreciate the ways in which metal makes my writing better.
Writers find inspiration and motivation from any number of sources — those that are obvious to outsiders and those that most definitely are not. For me, heavy metal is a constant source of both inspiration and motivation, and I can see the ways in which it’s made me a better writer.
So don’t leave me in silence when I write. Pump something loud and heavy into my ears, and if they’re screaming at me…
Well, that’s just fine by me.
About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.