I posted last week on this site about the responses to my Facebook invitation for writer friends to reveal what music (if any) they listen to while writing. Some replied that they don’t—or can’t—listen to music while writing. Donnalynn Davis said, “I need quiet to write, music muffles the voices speaking to me.” Many others said their writing soundtrack has to be instrumental music, like Donna Mumma, who listens to movie soundtracks, citing as her favorites Schindlers List, Skyfall, Specter, and anything by John Williams. But others, like Larry J. Leech, don’t seem to mind voices and lyrics; he likes to “listen to old concerts on YouTube when I write. Queen, Van Halen, Doro, and Within Temptation are a few of my favorites.”
Many others said that they choose or organize a playlist according to what they’re writing. Anthony Trendl said, “So much depends on what I’m writing.” For example, he has named his Spotify playlists, “Good Grooves for Focused Writing,” “Fire in My Blood to Write on a Sunday Afternoon,” and “Moody Tunes Good for Writing,” among many.
Miriam Jones Bradley responded, “I listen on Pandora to ‘Classical for Studying’ and ‘Classical Relaxation,’ mostly. Really anything without words. If it has words, then I get distracted by the music. There is a piece that every time I hear it, I think of a particular scene in one of my books because it was playing while I was writing it!”
Darren Kehrer said, “Writing Christian science-fiction, I tend to listen to those kind of soundtracks. I try to build a playlist of moods and settings so I can play the appropriate tracks to reflect what I’m writing: Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, and various DC and Marvel movies as well. I do throw some Celtic and melody music into the mix. Music inspires the movie screen in my imagination. Sometimes, the music does the creation. I’m just writing down as I ‘watch.’”
J. Otis Ledbetter writes his nonfiction with noise-canceling headphones on. “It puts me in my own world,” he says. “Soundtracks are my preference, especially E.S. Posthumus.”
“If I’m writing humor,” says Linda M. Au, “it’s always ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic. No surprise there to anyone who knows me. If I’m writing fiction, whether humorous or not, it’s either classical music or alternative/grunge from the 1990s. Classical works because there aren’t any lyrics to interfere with my brain, and alternative works because so many of the songs from that decade are familiar enough that their lyrics don’t distract me … until I start singing along.”
Janneke Margaret Jobsis Brown says, “Since I write fiction, it’s great if the music sounds like movie background music. Kevin Kern, Tim Janis, John Tesh, Dianne Arkenstone, and Suzanne Ciani are particularly good.”
Ronie Kendig says she mostly listens to bands like Audiomachine and Two Steps From Hell. “I tend not to listen to movie soundtracks because my brain ties the scenes together too well and intrudes on my story. However, I also like soundtracks from Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, especially for my paramilitary suspense.”
Molly Jo Realy added, “When I’m working on my New Orleans mystery, I set up a Pandora station and ‘liked’ music like Jazz, R&B, and Van Morrison. When I’m working on devotions, I listen to Chant.”
Diana Sharples even chooses her music according to the character she’s writing: “I like to listen to the kind of music my characters would listen to. It helps me get inside their heads a bit more. Since I write for teens, this has led me to discover some newer genres of music that I might not have found otherwise. But often I’ll find some older music that I think the characters would appreciate. Southern Rock, especially Allman Brothers, for my guitar player in Running Strong. Carole King and R&B for my amateur sleuth in the Because… books. I’ve gotten used to hearing lyrics while I’m writing, but I generally keep the music down low anyway.”
What about you? Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what’s in your your playlist?
There’a a writing melody
that I must duly log;
silence’s sure remedy,
called The Voice Of Dog.
They lurk in many corners,
nineteen there are in all,
and they issue orders
when sharing out their call.
Sometimes it’s “Dad, I’m hungry,
I really need some chow!”
Sometimes, to put it bluntly,
it’s “I need out, RIGHT NOW!”
And often not for me their laud,
they sing alone for the Ears of God.
Dogs are good people.
Barbara Ellin Fox
Your post shows how differently music works for each of us. I get so absorbed in music that I can not listen to anything while I write, even instrumentals. I love lyrics, so my mind can’t leave them alone while writing. If I listen to an instrumental, I’ll imagine lyrics or the scene the music portrays. I do listen sometimes before I write or when I want to have a certain mental attitude, as most of my stories have musical occurrences in them.
Music is something we can not separate from life. Music is such an integral part of me that I always have a rhythm going somewhere deep inside. For instance, yesterday I spent hours in the dental chair. I noticed my foot tapped a rhythm the whole time, and it wasn’t nerves. The rhythm matched the beat going through my mind.
Even if I don’t listen to music while I write, lyrics, melodies, and rhythms influence what I do and how I write. God gave us music as a blessing. Song and rhythm are in all of His creation.
My writing is often done while playing music for my kids while they go to sleep. This means that I listen to a lot of Minecraft parody songs. 🙂
And similar to Andrew, my background noise is not dogs but kids. My mind has gotten really good at quickly picking up loose threads.
That said, sometimes when I’ve just written an intense scene and am still hung over from the character’s suffering, a poem will suggest itself to me. After a poignant death scene, I had Emily Dickinson’s “My Life Closed Twice Before It’s Close” stuck in my head for several days.
For my more recent WIP, after putting my teenaged MC through the mill, the theme was a line from the hymn “Comfort, Comfort”: “She hath suffered many a day/Now her grief shall pass away/God will change her pining sadness/Into ever-springing gladness.”
I love music but not while I’m writing. I’m in the same camp with those who need to hear their characters. However, I often play instrumental music in the classroom. I’ve observed over the years that when I give in-class time to write and students are having a difficult time settling in, I can hit the “play” button and watch magic happen. I don’t have to say a word. Students focus and write. I love watching that. 🙂 — Looking forward to hearing you speak at the MidSouth Christian Writers Conference next month.
For me, music can give a definite sens of place, to wit:
The opening chords of Prokofiev
in Piano Concerto Number One
bring to mind a place, and weave
a flying carpet to the sun.
They bring me back to the day
I first saw Saarinen’s visionary
dream of flight, home of TWA
that on its span, the world might carry.
The music and place are intertwined
and binding cords are steel
that locus of wonder forever defined
as by a church-bell’s peal.
If writing ever to this place brings
me, I’ll journey upon musical wings.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Wow, Andrew. Just. Wow!
I don’t need a playlist necessarily. Sometimes, I’ll listen to what I like. Other times, I listen to something that might enhance my senses to a scene or a characters thoughts. This, as you might imagine, could open the door to all sorts of music.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Bob, I have infinite loops of HGTV on while I work. The television is in the other room but the background noise from couples trying to get the professionals to listen to their decorating plights is motivation for me….then again, I did just call it “noise.”
This is awesome lol ??
My writing playlist depends on what I am writing at the time. Devotions are instrumental hymns, children’s is MrRogers or similar soundtrack, short & flash fiction is jazz, nonfiction is weather & nature CDs, all else is Classical – especially anything by Edvard Grieg (love his Piano Concerto in A Minor, also Peer Gynt).
The playlists people have mentioned before and on this post are great. I listen to various YouTube “Epic” music for both inspiration (without words) to pump up my exciting and explosive scenes. Some really sad-sounding tear-provoking Celtic songs for a mournful scene or truly emotional in other ways. I can also block out the background noise of the TV.
But when I hear a word or phrase (it’s usually crime or worship… that my husband listens to ), I call out ‘that’s inaccurate theology LOL or ‘the forensics team is doing something wrong and that is it!’
Preferably … music. Time flies.
It also depends on what I’m writing, but usually I need instrumental music also. I have a long YouTube playlist called my “editing playlist” that I use when I’m editing or writing. It has mostly classical music, focusing music, and a few movie tracks, such as my favorite Pride & Prejudice adaptation. I also have separate playlists for the Greatest Showman soundtrack, the Music & Lyric soundtrack, and a video game inspired playlist (mostly Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Mario Galaxy instrumental tracks).
You know I write the most when listening to music, thought it was movies but no. I prefer a mix of instrumental and some songs with few lyrics. Not sure what genera this would be but my go to Pandora station is Venemy & Said the Sky. The random and quick shifting of this music, I think, mimics how I come across my ideas and put them together. So not like a puzzle, but perhaps a collage.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Do you think the past relationship with music has anything to do with how well it supports writing? I studied piano and violin as a child, sang in choirs for decades, taught piano for 17 years, and served many years as the organist or pianist in churches in the US and as a missionary in Chile (lots of minor keys there!). All kinds of music and formal knowledge about music lurk in every corner of my mind, not just memories of music I’ve enjoyed hearing. I can’t play it in the background when I write, because I too actively listen to it. It becomes a delightful distraction–delightful, but a distraction, nevertheless.