The creative process is a magical thing, and every creative person out there has their own unique way of tapping into it. Some people just flip open their laptop and go. Others need to do it with a pen and paper. And then there’s the vast majority of us, who have all kinds of ridiculously particular routines that will probably only get more ridiculous as we get older.

For me, when I decide that I’m feverish enough to start writing another novel, I like having a soundtrack. Seriously, having the right music gets me into the zone. You know, the creative zone. That’s the place where characters come to life and start arguing with you. Where the environment you’re creating starts to become more real than the room around you. Writers exist for this zone. We think about it constantly, whether we’re at the grocery store or trying to sleep. And for me, the right music helps me tap into that zone like cracking an egg creates the possibility of an omelet.

Coffee helps, too.

Nicholas Conley coffee dark

But it’s not just any music. For me, I’m apparently so ridiculous that by now, I like to have a specific playlist for each writing project I take on. I know, I know, it’s too much! But that’s how it is. When I’m writing, this music becomes so intimately connected with the novel that it becomes, for me, the story’s playlist. Back when I was writing Pale Highway, I spent a lot of time listening to The Album Leaf.  But Intraterrestrial required a different soundtrack.

Intraterrestrial alien meme night sky looking up Nicholas Conley Adam Helios Red Adept sci-fi science fiction ufo

Intraterrestrial is, without question, a weird novel. By its nature, this book is two stories, each one wrapped around one another like a braided rope: on one hand, there’s the tale of Adam, a young boy undergoing an imaginative journey through the cosmos, meeting “aliens” formed by his own imagination, while knowing that when he comes back to Earth, his life could be totally unlike what it was before. On the other hand, there’s the story of Camille, his mother—a woman stubbornly fighting to protect her son from the perils of the medical system, while battling her own guilt about the car crash that created this situation.

As I was writing Intraterrestrial, the music that really jump-started my creative process was that of Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi, whose work I was introduced to when he scored the French film The Intouchables (which, by the way, I highly recommend!). To put it clearly, Einaudi’s album Divenire helped me form the backbone of this novel. Seriously, I almost can’t imagine writing it without that soundtrack. This particular piece, to me, totally captures Adam’s journey through space:


However, there’s another song that played an important role in the development of Intratrerrestrial, and this song also plays an integral role in the novel’s story. If you’ve read the book (now available on Amazon, don’t forget!), then you know the song I’m talking about: it’s Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried to Live,” sung by the now tragically deceased Chris Cornell.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that Intraterrestrial first came to me, as a concept. But I do remember that when the story finally came together in my head—as I envisioned this boy riding a “lightboard” through outer space, while his physical body remained in a hospital bed on Earth—I was definitely listening to this song.

Now, let me ask all of you other writers, artists, and creative types in general: do you have specific soundtracks for your projects? Or on the other hand, maybe you have your own specific creative habits, outside of that?

If so, what are they?

Intraterrestrial: Available on Amazon!

17 thoughts on “The writing soundtrack for Intraterrestrial

  1. Nice playlist-loved that first selection to ‘set a mood’ for the framework. No wonder you’re so talented when writing. Music doesn’t seem to play a demonstrable impact though I enjoy it playing in the background. All the best with the new book.

    • Thanks again, your continual support is always seriously awesome. 🙂 Glad you enjoy the playlist! I do know what you mean, too; when I’m writing non-fiction articles/editorials/blogs/et cetera, I like having music, or any kind of background noise, but the songs themselves are less “involved” in the process.

      • Oh life has a soundtrack. Cooking a good meal usually has some sort of sound track. I work in law, so working on briefs has a sound track. I’m a hobby musician (although I have a degree in music), so music is kind of this constant undercurrent of life. Anything that takes time always needs some sort of soundtrack. It sets a tone and direction.

        • Great examples, I completely agree. “Sets a tone and direction” is a perfect way to describe it; having a good soundtrack for regular life events and moments lifts them from being “regular life,” into being important pieces of a bigger picture, I think, with their own emotional undercurrents, meanings, et cetera.

  2. I don’t have overall playlists for my novels, but certain songs certainly spark my characters and I think of them as being their songs. For instance, Every Day is Exactly the Same by Nine Inch Nails mirrors the internal struggle of one of my characters.

  3. I don’t have overall soundtracks for my stories, but there are certain songs that remind me of my characters. For instance, Every Day is Exactly the Same by Nine Inch Nails seems to mirror the internal struggles of one of my characters at her lowest-low point.

    • Oh yeah, that’s very similar. For me it’s usually more moment based, where certain songs capture the feeling of certain scenes, but there are other times where a song embodies a character’s whole arc. Love Nine Inch Nails, by the way.

  4. I’ve recently started listening to music when I write, and I’ve found that for me, it can be either a huge help or a huge distraction. It just depends on what kind of music I pick. Music without lyrics almost always works best for me.

      • Two of my favorites are Trans-Siberian Orchestra (especially their Christmas stuff), and the Stranger Things soundtrack. Stranger Things is almost more like a collection of musical sounds, versus normal music, and it’s great for writing creepier scenes. The only music with lyrics I’ve found that works for me is an album called My Grandfather, the Cubist, by Joy Electric. The words are repetitive and odd enough that I don’t find them very distracting.

  5. For my single foray into writing, a screenplay adaptation of a sci-fi disaster novel, I handpicked a playlist from many of my favorite big disaster movie soundtracks – most importantly Deep Impact by James Horner as well as the more epic portions of his score from Titanic.

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