I love to write in coffee shops. The ambiance and the aroma of a good coffee shop appeal to me. But there is a downside to writing in coffee shops: I don’t control the playlist. And I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a coffee shop that plays music that helps me to write. When I’m in my home office, however, I have numerous playlists for writing. I use Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, and my cable company’s music-on-demand app to provide instrumental soundtracks for my writing—usually classical, guitar, piano, and even medieval chant.
I put the question to my writer friends on Facebook and learned that some of my friends eschew music completely when writing. For example, Karen Lynn Nolan said, “I rarely listen to music when I write because, having a degree in music and theater, my concentration gets drawn into the music and I either sing the lyrics or conduct it.” She did admit to listening to bluegrass at times when writing her Appalachian novel, Above the Fog.
“As much of a music lover as I am,” explained Laura L. Smith, “I cannot listen to it while I write. Too distracting. I start typing out the lyrics instead of the words I was supposed to be writing. But I do listen to music while I walk or run and the creative juices flow…then my head ‘writes’ things I’ll put to paper later.”
Lori Hatcher said, “As someone who is easily distracted (two ears but only one brain), I write in silence. The ticking clock over my head is the music that cheers me on. *Tick* Keep writing. *Tick* Your deadline is one minute closer. *Tick* You’re getting older by the minute. If you don’t keep working, you’ll die before you ever see publication again. *Tick* All the days ordained for you were written in his book before one of them came to be, but if you hope to have anything written in your book, you’d better not stop. *Tick* I admire those who can write with music — it seems so romantic and picturesque, but, sadly, God didn’t wire me that way.”
But those strange writer types were in the minority. Kathy Carlton Willis shares my affection for coffee shops. (“I wrote all of Grin with Grace at a coffeehouse,” she says, “because I loved the ambiance and the music.”) At home, however, she says she finds a coffeehouse station on cable music or Pandora. “I love praise and worship music, but I can’t play it when I write because I stop to sing along or look up the lyrics!”
Elaine W. Miller replied to my question succinctly: “Alexa, Play Mozart.”
Cindy Woodsmall said, “I can only listen to instrumental music. Anything with words messes with my thoughts while writing. I enjoy Yiruma. I’ve purchased the music, but it is also available on YouTube.”
Janine Rosche prefers movie soundtracks as background to her fiction: “There are no lyrics to distract, but the rising and falling score adds to the emotion/conflict I intend to write with each scene.”
Tim Burns says, “Usually I have Pandora Bach or Mozart radio going. Other times I’ll put on a YouTube of Beethoven’s symphonies or something similar.”
Karen Scalf Bouchard adds, “Ditto on ‘nothing with lyrics.’ I listen to music on www.focusatwill.com. It really does help me focus!”
Judy Gyde listens to “anything by Julie True. Relaxing instrumental worship music”; and Nan Trammell Jones visits http://soaking.net/, which she says fellow writer Vonda Skinner Skelton introduced her to. “The entire site is ministry based. Scroll down and you will find a playlist of exquisite, soothing instrumental music.”
Carrie Padgett Omar recommends “Omar Akram on Pandora. My brother-in-law told me about it. Instrumentals only.”
What about you? Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what’s in your your playlist?
(Next week’s post will dive back into the soundtracks of our writing lives.)
The soundtrack from the Broadway play, Wicked. It’s the ONLY music I can listen to that doesn’t distract me. Probably because I don’t know the words. ha. I just love the music, though. If I don’t have that, then I write in silence.
That explains a lot about your books, Lynette. “Under the surface / Behind the scenes / Something baaaaaaad.”
I love to have music playing when I write. I choose the type of music according to the mood of the scene I’m working on. Like Janine, I’ve found that movie soundtracks are the best source of music-to-inspire simply because they were written NOT to be in-your-face, but instead, to enhance a visual scene and mood, and to be merely background sounds for the more important dialogue and visuals on the screen. I know some authors create playlists for their readers, but I wish there was a way to create an actual soundtrack so my readers could hear the exact music I was listening to when I wrote each scene!
I think you’ve hit on a brand new marketing gimmick: books with soundtracks. Please include me in a percentage of the royalties. Thank you.
I listen to favorite instrumental CD’s that feature flute, or piano, or integrate nature sounds. I also like Classical Music for Studying on Pandora
Funny story. Years ago, I had the bright idea of using a nature sounds/ambient music CD for me and my wife to fall asleep to. It was titled something like “Summer Nights on the Lake.” All went well…until the loon started in. That was the end of that.
When I listen to music while writing (and sometimes I don’t), I usually create a Pandora station based on the kind of music I think the POV character would listen to, even if it doesn’t mesh with my personal taste. Since I write period pieces, that could be anything from The Andrews Sisters to hair metal.
Please don’t choose a POV character who listens to ska.
So much hate for the horn section…. 😛
No ska? Not even the O.C. Supertones? 🙂
While I’m inspired by a variety of musicians–from Beethoven to Switch Foot and everything in between–mostly I need quiet to write.
Though I wonder if the Gregorian Chant–Sound of Silence might work? 😉
Coffee shops provide great sources for ideas, but the people are far too interesting and I often find myself chatting more than creating.
Thanks for another splendid post!
I’m not really a ska fan myself, but now I’m tempted to make a POV character who is, just because I’ve been told not to. Must be that Adamic nature coming out.
Sharon K Connell
I love to listen to classical music while writing. However, my new laptop doesn’t have a disc tray. I have to figure out where to get music, not being tech savvy. If anyone can tell me, I’d appreciate it. 🙂
Pandora.com is great, Sharon. There are free or paid accounts.
Sharon, your web browser is your best friend. Sites like Pandora, soaking.net (both mentioned above), YouTube, focusatwill.com, and others give you plenty of options. Next week’s post should also add to the possibilities.
Damon J. Gray
I’m in the oddball camp. I cannot have the distraction. I cannot even write in front of a window.
I admire the coffee-shop writers and wish SO much that I could go to the local hang-out and write all day, but it is just not an option for me. I even tried writing at the local library a few times, but again, I need silence and nothing in front of me but a glowing screen.
“Oddball Camp.” Genius. I could spend a week there. I can think of lots of people who are potential campers.
No, I don’t listen to music when writing. I am too distracted and end up singing along. It is, however, a good way to interject some “Praise Time” into my day!
Sami A. Abrams
If I’m writing my first or second draft, I blast praise and worship music. It helps me focus. I know. It sounds funny. But there are too many squirrels in my brain. It calms the little beasts. However, if I’m editing, I need quiet.
Music motivates–but instrumental only, please. David Nevue, DappyTKeys, or George Winston work well.
“DappyTKeys?” You just made up that name, right?
Damon J. Gray
David Nevue … do you listen to Whisperings Piano Radio?
Damon, Whisperings Piano Radio is new to me. Might have to Google that one.
Damon J. Gray
You’ll love it!!
Interesting name, right?! It’s legit, Bob. I promise.
Damon J. Gray
Sorry Bob – The David Nevue question was for Kristi.
Kristi, if you’re not familiar with it, check out Whisperings at solopianoradio.com. David Nevue runs that with Joe Yamada, a couple of Seattle pianists. They have pianist members from all over the country. You can listen online, buy a membership, and if you have an Amazon Echo, you can even install an Alexa Skill “Whisperings Radio” and listen over your Echo. It’s all piano all of the time.
Well, because I’m documenting something ind of bad, I fight back hard, and there’s a definite soundtrack to the story. Sorry for the language below; it both rhymes and fits.
Because of that on which I write,
I follow kickass tunes
that help to put despair to flight
with rocking Celtic runes.
Dropkick Murphy’s a natural fave
‘Hang ‘Em High’ is great,
it lets me piss in my own grave
and give a finger to my fate.
And then there’s Flatfoot 56,
whose ever-present roar
Satan’s backside gently kicks,
and his face mops the floor.
In the face of dyin’, here’s good cheer;
I’m rockin’ out, and drinkin’ beer.
always love your poems! I am with you on Celtic tunes, especially when someone somewhere you can tell is kicking butt…
Shoulder to shoulder, Claire. We’re going down to hell to kick ass and take names.
Just curious, do you like Irish trad or rebel music or just the Irish-influenced rock/punk? With the latter, check out Seo Linn if you haven’t already, especially if you’d like to hear some “as Gaeilge.” If you like the former, I’d love to hear some of your favorites. I’m still in the beginning stages of learning the Irish language and only know a few true trad artists. I do like the Dubliners for English-language trad. High Kings are also a good mostly-trad band (with some modern influence).
Also, how about Newfie music (i.e. Irish Descendants)
No music for me. I either need complete silence or, like Lori, I write and edit with a ticking alarm clock by my chair. I have several of these vintage clocks so there is one near each writing place at one and one in our RV.
My playlist for writing is so different from my road trip playlist (Hall and Oates). When writing, I can’t even listen to worship music that is instrumental because I just fill in the lyrics I already know should be there. So I tell Alexa to “Play Pandora spa music.” If I’m writing devotionals I might play scripture memory songs (for adults, not the kid stuff…can anyone say “Salty’s Psalms?” Ugh.
While working on my soon to be published novel I cranked out 30k in five days while listening to Moody Blues.
It has to be instrumental for me. I can’t write words while hearing words. I listen to the Spa channel on Pandora. Or, when internet connections are sketchy in my rural area, I listen to my cds from Orange Tree Productions; they combine instrumental pieces with nature sounds. Sometimes, I’ll switch to my “energy” station on Pandora based on the the violin music of Lindsey Stirling.
I listened to Scheherazade while writing the romantic scene of my first novel. It evoked just the right emotional ambiance.
Another good post. I have a playlist that I compiled on YouTube to go on for hours. I know lyrics and also will become distracted. I also know most (not all) baroque and classical music, to which I again become distracted and whistle…
So, when I do listen, especially during action scenes, I can go through three hours of great music. However. I live in a studio with my husband and the TV blares in the background. I can pretty much tune it out, but when I am focused, I will put on headphones.
This is where my plan falls apart. I may listen to three hours of music, still writing, the TV off because my husband has gone to bed (andddddd do I notice?) and after a bit realize the music has long since stopped and I am still wearing headphones.
So to answer this question, I can do both. But the playlist is non-Christian, without lyrics. For the most part, I am more than capable of tuning even the TV out.
Hmmm. That’s a really great question. I like to write in coffee houses. When I’m there, I usually don’t listen to my own music. I’ve got this weird ability to tune out what’s going on around me, so their music fades into the background. When I’m at home, I’ll usually pick a soundtrack from a movie that caught my attention. The Constant Gardner is my favorite. I need more, so if anyone has any good movie soundtrack suggestions, pass them along.
Another unusual musical group I listen to is Enigma. For some reason, it inspires my imagination. It’s great for walking when I want to think about plots and characters.
jennifer, “Thor: Ragnarok” has a cool score, especially since it features Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”.
Karen Lynn Nolan
Woo-hoo! I made it to your blog. Love the comments. We are all so different in what inspires and motivates us.
I go back and forth. Sometimes I need silence to concentrate, other times I’ll go for something instrumental. Piano Guys is my favorite. Great variety, mostly instrumental, and intense enough to lend itself to suspense writing.
Instrumental music sometimes but more often I listen to ocean waves and seagulls on Utube. Would rather be writing on a real beach under a palm tree though.
Brennan S. McPherson
Mostly instrumental. TPR’s “Melancholy” versions of the Zelda and Kingdom Hearts soundtracks (quite beautiful and soothing), Animals as Leaders (Progressive Instrumental Metal), Arch Echo (Happy Progressive Jazz Metal–yes, that’s really a thing and I really love it), orchestral soundtracks, instrumental piano renditions of worship music/hymns, basically anything that’s very consistent in its mood.
Susan Anderson Misey
YouTube is my usual source for writing music. My go-to right now is a five-hour You-Tube non-video video of Grateful Dead jams culled from decades of their concerts, and all lyric-free so the words don’t get entwined with my own. Somehow, the music segues seemlessly from jam to jam, and since it has been the soundtrack of my adult life, it feels as natural as writing to me. If I can deal with lyrics, I’ll hit archive.org for live Grateful Dead music (in all their past and current/group and solo incarnations) There are days, though, when I’m feeling down and need a shot of Christian contemporary music–and on those days, the lyrics don’t distract me one bit. They buoy my spirit and remind me I am writing for the glory of God.
I’m with Karen Lynn Nolan. No music for me at all. If it has lyrics, they distract me from the writing. If they don’t have lyrics, my brain creates them.
Music Box Dancer is a hallelujah chorus in my brain.
I always listen to music while I write because it helps me focus. I listen to a wide range of music, and it all depends on what type of thing I’m writing. Sometimes it’s Broadway musicals like Wicked, Newsies, Les Mis, etc. The emotion in the lyrics and voices really helps when I need to get into a dramatic scene. Sometimes I listen to specific songs from TV shows or movies that match the feeling I want in the scene I’m writing. Often when I blog or do writing that doesn’t require a certain mood, I’ll just put on whatever playlist I’m currently into whether it’s Broadway, Christian music, Owl City, or K-pop. (I told you my music tastes vary greatly.)