Guest Author: Maeve Higgins

Music to Write To

Before I really started writing, I mean writing in earnest, writing for a living (or a kind of living), using writing as a way to think, before I started waking up thinking about words I’d written in a sentence of my own and how to move and swap and polish them, before understanding that I was actually a writer, I used to obsessively read about writers and their rituals. 

The Paris Review is fantastic for that, detailing the superstitions and practicalities of a thousand writers’ routines. Writing websites and creativity websites collate information and spit out the data collected from real-life writers about how they manage to carry out this, to me, most elusive craft. Supposedly Roald Dahl tied himself to a chair, Maeve Binchy woke up before dawn and made a huge pot of coffee and Maya Angelou rented hotel rooms to work in. 

I took it all in, enthralled, unable to figure out just which key would unlock the box holding my particular brain. Nothing worked, I was too jittery. Perhaps that was down to me being over-caffeinated and roped onto a chair in a strange hotel, who am I to say? What I can say is that the single thing that finally helped me to write came from Stephen King’s book On Writing. There’s lots of great advice in there, but nothing worked for me except the music. King listens to music, very loudly, as he writes. I believe he blares metal and rock from speakers, not so for me. 

After much trial and error, I bought a pair of noise cancelling headphones and played Frank Ocean’s 2016 album Blond in its entirety on a loop every time I sat or stood or crouched to write my best book so far, Maeve in America. Even today when I hear the bass kick in on the opening track Nikes I feel my consciousness slip down to that slower, deeper place where writing comes from. I have no idea how listening to music, specifically that album by that artist, influenced my writing, but I know it’s my best work to date and that when people praise the book for being insightful, funny, beautiful etc, I sometimes think…Frank, was that you? I’m reluctant to dissect why this method or this album worked, in case I ruin it for my next book. I’m hunting now for a new album, and can’t wait to sink into writing again. 

Maeve Higgins was already a bestselling author and comedian in Ireland when, at the grand age of thirty-one, she left the only home sheʼd ever known in search of something more. Several years on, these essays form a smart, warm and revealing story of how Maeve found herself, literally and figuratively, in New York City. Here are stories of learning to live with yourself while youʼre still figuring out how to love yourself, of not being able to afford a dress for the ball and of the true significance of realising what sort of shelter dog you would be. Self-aware and full of her signature banter, Maeve in America is also a fearless exploration of some of todayʼs most urgent concerns: identity, migration, politics and activism.

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