Music to Write By

Happy Monday, writers! It’s chilly and raining here this morning — very wintery weather for SoCal. Staring out the window, I’ll admit I’m tempted to just spend the day on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book, some Christmas carols on the stereo. But the holidays are looming, and there’s lots left to do, so here I am, to cheer you on to another day of writing productivity. Today’s theme? The writer’s soundtrack.

Some writers need silence to work. And I understand that. Music can be a distraction. But it can also be an inspiration. So my question for you today is how can you or do you use music to help you write? If you need quiet for the actual writing process, do you ever listen to music beforehand to help set a specific mood? Do you create soundtracks that are thematically linked to your projects?

Lately I’ve seen authors posting music on their websites, links to YouTube or Spotify that promote the songs they feel match their stories. But some authors create these kind of soundtracks purely for their own purposes, to help them get their brains in gear for a particularly difficult scene. Melancholy music might make it easier to write a death scene or about characters ending a relationship; happy music might inspire you if you’re writing a romantic ending or about an upbeat event in your story.  If you’re writing something set in a particular period in history, try music from that time, including classical works, to help set the mood.

Often lyrics are what get in the way for writers who find it difficult to work to music. Your brain tries to focus on the words in the song, rather than the words you’re trying to put on paper. If this is an issue, give instrumental soundtracks a try. Think about how much emotional resonance comes from background music when you go to the movies. Imagine the climactic scene in Star Wars without John Williams’ glorious orchestral theme, or Titanic in the absence of James Horner’s score. And horror movies are often made by their ominous soundtracks. Try watching the shower scene in Psycho with the volume muted; it really isn’t the same.

Do you have favorite music to write to? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I’m sure other writers here reading the blog would welcome new suggestions. A few more of my favorite instrumental soundtracks include Out of Africa, The Last of the Mohicans, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pride and Prejudice (the BBC version), and The Piano.  Give one a listen, and see where your imagination goes. Happy writing!

9 thoughts on “Music to Write By

  1. I am one of those who cannot write to music. I can’t really multitask at all. I kind of see it this way–if I listen to music, it’s because I like that music and I want to listen to it. If I read a book, I turn off music, TV or whatever and focus on the book. In a way, I figure I owe it to the artist to pay attention to what they have worked to create for my enjoyment. I feel I owe my work and my readers at least the same measure of attention. When I write, I write. That’s it. When I’m done writing, then I can listen to music and enjoy it. What I do sometimes for inspiration, is read before I write–either something I have previously written, or something by another writer that is similar and, in my opinion, very well-done.

  2. I love music, but I can’t write to it. I need absolute silence. I like to read aloud to make sure what I’ve written sounds right. I like the instrumental songs from the Amelie soundtrack, but I don’t think I could write, even with classical music in the background. I do sometimes fantasize about what movie soundtrack I would create, if my novel ever appeared on the big screen. 🙂 I enjoyed The Devil Wear’s Prada soundtrack, and how it fits each scene.

  3. I listen to Cimemix.US on the internet while I write. It is an all-movie soundtrack station and really wrings some emotions from me while I am writing. Not too good for lighthearted writing, I would suppose, since most of the music is very dramatic. But the music is also very beautiful and soaring–great for putting images in your noggin.

  4. Oddly enough, my last blog post was about the mental soundtracks I create for a lot of my writing projects. However, I can’t write while listening to music, or at least not music with lyrics. I do like to have some background noise while I’m writing, but I concentrate on the words too much if they’re included in a song. Perhaps I could listen to instrumental music while I work, but I never remember to turn any on.

    I do love big orchestral scores, like the music from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and especially Jurassic Park (the theme gets me pumped every time). And for some reason, I love the Spiderman 2 soundtrack. I just can’t listen to them while writing.

  5. I’m with the rest of the other comments on this one. I like the idea of writing with music on, but it just doesn’t work for me. Either I tune it out entirely or it distracts from my focus.

    I did like your idea of listening to music that suits the genre of time-period piece. That certainly could put you in the mood or inspire a scene.

  6. I like to write to music. I’ve toyed with the idea of creating a specific playlist for my projects but I haven’t done it quite yet. Typically whatever is on my current playlist will do and I find that I tend to associate that music with that particular work. When I go back and read (days, months, years later), I find myself remembering those songs that I played over and over while I was writing. I try to stay away from anything to upbeat and danceable because it does draw my focus. These days, it’s a lot of Adele. Dido is also a good person to write to. I absolutely stay away from holiday music when I write. I love it but for some reason, I cannot focus while listening to it for the life of me.

  7. I do create my own soundtracks. I can’t have any other distractions, but I can adjust the volume of my media player when needed. Sometimes for a particular mood, I turn a specific song up. I look at it in two ways… 1) Music affects my daily life and I don’t know a teenager that doesn’t listen to music of some type. 2) It helps me focus on where I want my story to go.

    I try to get in my characters’ heads to find out what music they like and make my list accordingly. By using the music, I feel that my characters come to life and are actually telling me their story. Like the movies you listed, I imagine my stories and scenes as a movie with its own soundtrack. I feel it helps me connect better with the emotional status at that particular scene.

  8. I nearly always have music on when writing. If I was hand wirting my first draft, either the TV would be on or I would have headphones on. In the early days of writing, the PC was in the living room so I would have headphones on . Now it is in the small spare bedroom, I use speakers.

    I have always found having music on in the background relaxing, and it desn’t matter what music I listen to, be it classical, jazz, or even heavy metal. I find complete silence more of a distraction than music.

    It’s similar to being outside in the countryside; it’s never silent. There’s always the sound of the wind, the rustling of trees, birds chirping away, or streams. The music never influences my writing, nor is it inspirational. It helps me maintain a focus on what I am doing, even when driving I love to have music playing.

  9. Personally, I always have music on, but I don’t make particular soundtracks for any project, I just use some favorite songs or artists playing in the background. Usually, it’s music I know inside and out, and I keep it all fairly upbeat. (Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor is a favorite, because all the songs bleed together, like listening to one continuous song.) In fact, I don’t hear the words at all while I’m writing.

    I use music to “shut out” the world around me, because I have no door to close. With kids and a husband running around a very small home, I need something to block them out, or I am forever stopping and losing my focus. The hubby’s learned when the mp3 player earplugs are in, to leave me alone, I am working.

    The kids are starting to figure it out. Between that and the “force field” that hubby puts up around the kitchen table where I work, I almost get peace to work. 🙂

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