Writing to Music

While surfing a few writing boards, one topic that I see appear quite often is the subject of music. Usually it’s someone asking what music a writer listens to while writing, and how it affects them. In other cases, I’ve seen people list a few bands and almost ask if it’s ok to listen to it while writing. My answer has and always will be, if it helps you write, do it!

Neil Gaiman states pretty elegantly in the liner notes to his music cd “Where’s Neil when you need him:” “music was always part of the writing process — different music for different stories.” Brandon Sanderson wrote in in his blog: “Music is a large part of the writing process for me. Listening to particular songs, with particular beats, can really get me into the writing mood, sparking images and ideas in my head. I depend on it in many cases to make me write when, sometimes, I don’t feel like it.” Sanderson, when asked specifically what he listens to, he goes from classical, Metallica, Daft Punk, etc.

Personally, I listen to rock when I want a fast paced scene, and classical or Celtic when I want a softer feel. I try to match the beat to the rhythm of the scene. Look at the music you like and look at your scene. Whichever genre or song you think best matches how you want to write, use it. You don’t need permission, you just need to write!

About Matt Jones

Software Engineer for a living. Fantasy writer for myself. I'm a writer, veteran, gamer, hacker, maker, astronomer, thinker, and altogether indescribable.

9 responses on “Writing to Music

  1. Frank Morin

    I find having music playing while I write helps me get in ‘the zone’. Usually I prefer just the music – no lyrics, as they can be distracting. I listen to a wide range of music, and am finding particular songs help with particular types of scenes. But most important is to have some kind of music playing. I find it a lot harder to write in complete silence.

  2. Evan

    Yeah, it’s funny how often this comes up. I assume I must be in the minority, but my writing almost always happens in complete silence. I *wish* I could listen to music and also write productively, but I tend to just get swept away in the music. In short, I’m a very bad multitasker!

    On the rare, RARE occasion, I will turn on music while writing an action sequence. When this happens, it’s usually something particularly intense from a movie score.

  3. Matt Jones Post author

    @Frank Morin
    I generally do the same thing. (Or I listen to music in Japanese so my brains not unconsciously processing the words as I write.) The only time I don’t have music going is when I’m in a public place and I’m trying to people-watch while I write.

    @Evan
    I think your scenario is the one I hear the most often. People assume that since the big names usually mention some type of music while writing (or even, in the case of Gaiman, a dependency of the writing process) that it must be a requirement for everyone. While I may not have made the point as strongly as I wanted to, I wanted to let people know that whatever works for them is what they should do. No music at all? Awesome! As long as you write, you’re doing it right. (Hey, I like that. Trademark anyone?)

  4. Colette Vernon

    This does always come up. I even heard one author argue that no matter how much you think you write better with music, the brain will always process better without it. I think Neil Gaiman and Brandon Sanderson would suggest otherwise. I’m with you…it’s individual. I tried the music thing and though it was great for mood, it slowed down my writing. I wanted to focus on the music instead of the scene I was trying to create on the page. So, I go for the complete silence and listen to music when I’m not writing. The funny thing is, sometimes I can almost hear background music as I write certain scenes, as if they’re being plastered across a movie screen. Weird, huh?

  5. Matt Jones Post author

    @Colette Vernon
    I don’t think it’s strange at all. If anything, it makes me more excited to read it since it means you have great rhythm and pacing! Some people use music to help get that, others can do itinately. Doesn’t mean one is better than the other, just means that people do it differently.

  6. Joelene

    Must. Have. Music. If my iPod died, I’d walk around like a mindless minion. I have playlists titled the same as my manuscripts, creating the “feel” I want to write. Because I write YA, I’m into the rock, alternative and yes… a little R&B. Everything from Katy Perry to the Eagles, mixed in with Tim McGraw and Lil Wayne. Who knew. I was a “bubble gum beat”girl growing up, and still like the sound of pop…until they all sound the same. I also prefer to write with earphones, tuning the world out. Music keeps my creative juices going.

  7. KylieQ

    I prefer to write without music but if the tv is on in another room, I’ll put my ipod on to drown it out. If I have to write to noise, I get less distracted with music than with the tv. On the other hand though, I have one particular character who seems to channel Natalie Imbruglia. If I’m writing this character’s vp, I have to have NI playing.

  8. Brandon M Lindsay

    I almost always have music on, no matter if I’m writing or doing something else. I feel that life, in order to be adequately enjoyed, must have a soundtrack.

    As for the kind of music I listen to while I write, it’s almost exclusively video game music. I love classical music, but I’ve found it’s too dynamic and distracting for me to focus on what I’m doing. Video game music, on the other hand, is generally meant to be background music, and thus works very well for me while I write. It doesn’t matter what kind of scene I’m writing.

    Certain other kinds of music can get me into a certain mood before I write, but when I’m doing the actual writing, it’s got to be Jeremy Soule or Nobuo Uematsu.

  9. David C

    Depends on where I am in the writing cycle. If I’m in the zone; if the words are pent up behind the eyes just looking for a leak in the dam to burst forth, I can write in an airport. But if the words are lurking, need to be enticed to come out, then I need to be at my desk with no TV in earshot and either dead still or something playing on the stereo. My preferred choice is J S Bach, either straight or jazz interpretations, but depending on the task at hand I may put some Wynton Marsalis or Chick Corea on. I do upon occasion lean upon the soundtracks from the various Pirates of the Caribbean movies to provide bombast. And upon rare occasions, Metallica may be heard. But almost always without words. Lyrics are distracting where notes are not.

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