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!