Hello and happy Wednesday!
I’ve been doing a lot of work on my pirate novel Cabin Girl lately, and during the process I’ve been reminded of how much music affects my writing process. It’s gotten me thinking…what are others’ thoughts on music playing while they write? What kinds? When?
Until 2020, I never wrote while listening to music. The thought really hadn’t even occurred to me. I usually wrote in spaces in my house where other family members were, and without earbuds, didn’t want to make a bunch of noise with them around. And I figured music would just be distracting anyway.
But in November of 2020, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote the sequel to Cabin Girl, and found myself listening to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack every day while I wrote. It was my first experience having music playing while I worked on a book, and I actually discovered I liked it! Having the pirate-y music going (in my earbuds at this point) really helped me get into the mood of the story.
And occasionally, the perfect song started playing while I was working on a certain scene. Such as the tense and chilling soundtrack of the Kraken attacking while I wrote a shark attack. I played that song on loop until I finished the scene, and I believe it helped me picture the scene better. It was like adding the soundtrack to my writing made the movie in my head more vivid, as if it was a real movie. Call me crazy, but it helped, haha.
Ever since, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with music while I write. I’ve worked on a lot of projects since then, and have discovered some ways that listening to music does – and doesn’t – help when I’m writing. And it’s fascinating to hear what helps other writers.
One thing I’ve realized about myself, is that I need to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction in my music choices while I write. Personally, while music often helps me get into a more focused state, I’m easily distracted, and music with lyrics usually makes it way too hard to focus on my writing. Especially when I’m writing non-fiction, such as blog posts.
I think it might be because I’m trying to figure out how to express my own, personal thoughts through words, and when there are a bunch of other words going through my mind, it’s just too hard for me to concentrate. It’s harder for me to be logical and concise – which is not something I always have to be when writing fiction.
So, my go-to music while writing blog posts and responding to messages is actually this playlist. It’s a compilation of instrumental Christian songs that have been working really well for me the past few months. It helps drown out other distracting noises in my house, while still being calm, soothing, and lyric-free. Ideally, it serves as lovely white noise in the background, and I try not to get distracted by focusing on the actual melodies of the songs.
Classical music is another go-to when I want something intricate and calm, but not too distracting. Soundtrack instrumentals, however, have had to go. Soundtracks for movies and shows are designed to elicit emotion and draw you in (not that other instrumentals don’t draw emotion, but at least for me, they don’t bring out quite as strong of reactions). But when I’m writing a blog post, I’m not trying to get carried away by emotion.
So I save the soundtracks for when I’m writing fiction. And they work perfectly for this! There are so many amazing soundtracks to choose from while writing, and it works even better if you’re able to find a soundtrack from a story that resembles the one you’re working on. For example, I’ve used this compilation of random pirate-y soundtracks, songs, and shanties while I write my Cabin Girl series.
Sometimes I stick to the instrumentals, sometimes I let myself listen to the songs with lyrics…it just depends on what I’m writing and how distracted I am at the time. It also makes a difference whether I’m writing an intense, sad scene, or a chipper, bright one. I try my best to tailor the song to the scene when I know I need to get good emotion for it.
Other examples I’ve used are compilations of clean, ‘romantic’ songs when writing my medieval/romance work-in-progress, and folk song playlists for stories set in certain historical cultures and time periods. I’ve found them to be very helpful in setting the tone for the story, and helping me get immersed in the setting.
When it comes to fiction, sometimes I’ll also make a specific playlist for a story. I don’t do this every time though, just for the stories where I can find very fitting songs. Some of my books are better suited to just a single soundtrack from a movie, others are easy for me to find dozens of various songs (with lyrics and without) that set the mood for the story.
And of course, when I do put together a playlist for a book, I try to do it during times that I shouldn’t actually be writing, haha. Music while writing is wonderful, but it shouldn’t become procrastination. It’s a tool for better productivity and getting into the mood of our stories, not something that should distract us.
An added bonus that I’ve discovered for myself, is that when I listen to the same songs over and over while working on a project, my mind actually trains itself to kick into writing mode. When I first hear those songs start playing, it’s easier to start writing, because it’s become a habit. Those notes tell my mind that it’s time to start imagining.
There have been studies that back this up, and not just with music. We as humans are habitual creatures, and just about anything done repeatedly before or during our writing process can turn into a helpful routine. My brains then see or hear those ‘triggers’ we’ve put into place, and associate them with a time to be productive. Which is one reason having a writing routine can be helpful (a certain time, place, tools, etc.). Music can be part of that.
There’s no one right way to use music while writing. Every writer has a different strategy for it – and many just don’t listen to any at all. That’s okay too! Personally, there are definitely still days where I just need silence. Sometimes I’ll put in my earbuds to help drown out other noises, but I won’t listen to any music. I just want it to be quiet.
I’m one of those people that has to turn down the radio while driving if I’m lost or trying to concentrate on parking, etc. Sometimes the noise just gets to be too much while I want to focus. And that’s just fine! The bottom line when it comes to listening to music while writing is to do what works for you.
I’ve met some writers that can’t stand the thought of having music playing while they write and they’ll do anything they can to avoid it. The silence is their best writing tool. Other writers get super in-depth – with character playlists, songs specifically chosen for each scene in a book, and compilations arranged in such a way that the progression of the songs mirrors their plot. In comparison, I’m a very casual ‘musical’ writer.
In the end, I’ve discovered that I enjoy utilizing music – especially emotional soundtracks for my fiction – but I’m also okay with the silence sometimes. Definitely if my mind is already overwhelmed. To me, music is another useful part of my writing toolbox. It may not be the one I need all of the time, but I use it often enough that I’m very glad to have it.
So, what are your thoughts on listening to music while you write? Is it a part of your writing routine, or do you prefer the silence? Why or why not? If you do listen to music, do you use lyrics? Does it ever change depending on what you’re writing? And if you don’t use music, what are some other things that help you write? I’d love to hear your stories, so let me know what you prefer in the comments below!
(And if you’re so inclined, feel free to share your favorite playlists, as well!)