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December 10, 2010

Years ago, I could not quite understand it when people told me that they always listened to music while writing stories. I thought it must be distracting. Then iPod and iTunes were invented.

All right, it is not as simple as that. But the point is that I discovered the use of “playlists”. Playlists are my friends now. On my iPod, I have a lot of music, and my taste is quite diverse, so on said device is a mixture of rock, pop, techno/dance, power metal, punk, jazz and swing, rock, country and a dash of classical music. Not everything suits a specific story, or even a specific scene in a story. So I work with playlists.
Most of my protagonists have have their own playlist – a soundtrack that fits their general personality/mood, if you will. They include music that I think complements their stories, and quite often music that they would listen to themselves. It helps me getting into the right state of mind for writing about them. I’ve also put together a few โ€scene specificโ€ playlists that don’t belong to any one story, but are suitable for certain types of chapters. – Sad ones, action orientated ones, romantic ones, and so on.
I still prefer writing in the absence of any kind of music sometimes. But very often I find that specific soundtracks help, that they underline the mood I am working on conveying.

Do you listen to music when you write? And if you do, is there a special type of music that helps you or gets you in the right mood?

23 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2010 9:54 pm

    In the momentum of the early days of my first draft, I could write through any music, the sound of jackhammers, what have you. Now I tend to need silence to stay in the zone. However, I have a massive soundtrack on iTunes that I listen to before I start writing. That way, I feel like I’m working on my novel even when driving around on errands.


    • December 10, 2010 10:41 pm

      Thank you for commenting! It’s so interesting to hear how others use music.
      I listen to my soundtracks when I’m away from my computer, too. It keeps me in the spirit of the novel/protagonist.


  2. December 11, 2010 12:08 am

    If the writing is going really well, music can be nice, but if I’m struggling with the story, silence is what I need.

    Whey I do play music it needs to be either instumental or songs in a language I do not speak, otherwise it is distraction city for me.


    • December 11, 2010 5:08 pm

      I use instrumental music for writing for that very same reason sometimes. It’s annoying if you start singing along while trying to write.


  3. December 11, 2010 1:46 am

    I need silence, or at least no audible words, to write creatively. At least I think I do. Many of my novel characters have, in my opinion, abhorrent taste, so listening to their music would make me want to throttle someone.


    • December 11, 2010 5:10 pm

      I get your point. – Though I must admit that I have actually started liking some music genres because of my characters.


  4. December 11, 2010 1:48 am

    Having specific playlists for specific characters and scenes- this is great. It will also make it easier to select music for the movie version of your novel ๐Ÿ™‚
    I tend to do more free writing so will sometimes pay attention to whatever music is playing in the background and go where the music takes me in my writing.


    • December 11, 2010 5:13 pm

      I agree! I to visualise the scenes in my stories very much, so they are already like small films in my mind.
      I’ve tried a few writing exercises trying to go where the music takes me; it’s very interesting. ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. December 11, 2010 5:49 am

    I prefer inner peace and outer quietude, except on very rare occasions.


    • December 11, 2010 5:33 pm

      I do too sometimes. For me, it’s a matter of what I write. Perhaps that’s it – that the soundtrack (or lack of soundtrack) relates to what we write?


  6. December 11, 2010 6:52 pm

    I usually listen to music when I right. It’s generally pretty random but if I’m writing fantasy I tend to listen to fast-paced rock or alternative. My pacing can sometimes be influenced by my music but generally I don’t notice a significant difference.


    • December 13, 2010 8:37 pm

      It’s interesting that the pacing is changed. Come to think of it, I think that happens too me too sometimes. Thanks for bringing that up!


  7. December 12, 2010 7:14 pm

    I use music to motivate me to write, but like you said at first, I find it hard to focus with music in the background. Sometimes I use it to get rid of the loud noise around me if I am at a coffee shop. But no, I usually don’t read music while I write.


    • December 13, 2010 8:40 pm

      Oh yes, music is great for getting rid of unwanted noises. I really agree with you on that. It’s nice not to need music, but to be able to use it to your advantage is really nice.


  8. December 12, 2010 7:15 pm

    *listen not read.


  9. Karina Gyldenkaerne permalink
    December 17, 2010 6:14 pm

    I am truly fascinated by the way you use your playlists as an aid in your writing. I cannot do that. I do listen to music while writing sometimes, but mostly I prefer not to. The music influences my writing way to much. I get caught up in the mood of songs very easily, and it automatically translates to the tone of my writing. It would take an insane amount of planning to make just the right playlist to every particular scene. So I don’t.
    Quite jealous, that you are able to use as you do.


    • December 17, 2010 9:58 pm

      Sometimes the music I listen to influences my writing too. – Hence the many playlists. One of my protagonists actually has four or five playlists because his story is very long and has a lot of different moods. Writing NaNoWriMo last month, I made a separate playlist for the ending of the story because I knew that it had to be just right, so I wrote it to the same five songs on repeat. But most of the time I’m able to stick to one playlist for each story and occasionally just skip a song.


    • December 17, 2010 9:59 pm

      Oh – I forgot to tell you thank you for your comments! I really appreciate them. ๐Ÿ™‚


  10. Sibel Catana permalink
    December 20, 2010 11:30 am

    I do listen to music sometimes when I write the first draft for the mood and I did get ideas for stories while listening to some music. But most of the time I don’t listen to it especially through the editing process. It’s distracting and I need that channeling that silence can provide.

    I am not able to write if there is too much noise around through. And I was never able to write if there are other people in the room or the house. It’s so bloody distracting! ๐Ÿ™‚


    • December 20, 2010 4:56 pm

      Thank you for the comment!
      I can certainly see why music could be distracting in the editing stage.
      I used to be unable to write with other people around me, but now I’m in a writing group and find that after a little bit of practice, I like it. But then – those are other people sitting quietly and writing, and we are all doing our best not to distract each other.


      • Sibel Catana permalink
        December 21, 2010 10:00 am

        My pleasure! ๐Ÿ™‚
        Hm, exactly, these are the people who are rather self-conscious as opposed to a flatmate who goes to the bathroom and slams the door, watches soccer (we call it football) on TV louder than he should, of course, goes to the kitchen and slams some stuff over there… Ha ha, luckily I don’t live with a flatmate anymore.


  11. January 10, 2011 3:05 pm

    I had a similar discussion with another writer about this not long ago. They didn’t listen music at all while write. I am the complete opposite: I always have the music on every day of my life regardless of what I’m doing. I tune the music to match my mood.

    Like you, I try and match the music to what I’m writing. I’ve even assigned certain songs to specific scenes. While listening to these songs while driving, I imgine the scene playing out before me.

    Lately, I’ve been listening to Scottish music to get me ready for a novel I want to write. Not only am I exposing myself to the style of music but new words I can use in my novel.

    I make only one exception when it comes to music. I don’t play a new CD when I write. My ear is tuned to the new music and I can’t concentrate.

    Great post.



    • January 10, 2011 4:21 pm

      Assigning songs to specific scenes is so helpful!
      Incidentally I turned to Scottish music for one major project, too.
      Thank you for the comment!


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