Question on the Hour: What place does Music have in Your Writing?


photo by Amanda Standfield


Do you listen to music when you write or is the room dead silent?  Do you use a special mix with specific songs or do you pick a genre and then let Spotify or pandora pick the playlist?  Do you prefer songs with lyrics or are you into pure instrumentals?  Can you write only with music or only in silence?

For starters, my music service of choice is Pandora.  Ever since the service came out, I loved its evocative name and the way the service introduces me to new music has always intrigued me.  Countless hours in college fiddling with the radio settings and “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” different songs, forged a lifetime bond with this service.  I keep some channels so fine tuned that some songs I like don’t play on one station, only the other.  All this personalization is perfect for writing because I can pinpoint what kind of emotion and tempo I want while I write. 

As a general starting place, I listen to pop/dance music when I write.  The fast beats encourage the words to flow fast and constant.  Most pop/dance is repetitive and uncreative (sorry), which helps me get to a state of mind without coloring my prose.  Unless as you read this you’re thinking “oh no no no, don’t phunk with my heart,” Black Eyed Peas make consistent appearances on this channel.  The best part of my dance music motif is that when I get stuck on a certain scene, I can stop writing and start an impromptu dance party!  Nothing drives progress like an endorphin hit.

That said, I have a short story I inspired by one specific song.  To write it, I looped the one song the during the whole writing process—hours of the same song, and I still find that song mysterious and inspiring.  Something about its slow start that transforms to frantic drums and ends abruptly –

For reference, while I like pop/dance just fine but they aren’t my go to genre.  Except Lady Gaga whose amazing, my music preferences just for enjoyment include hard rock, metal, alt rock, grunge, and folk.  Angry and loud or pensive and angst (but never Emo they feels are manufactured).  I like songs I can channel feelings through and release.  Problem with this kind of music is that sometimes it makes me feel too much.  The writing becomes too personal or I’m too busy wallowing in an emotion to refocus on what I meant to do.  I might occasionally listen to a folk or rock station briefly so I can capture that bit of that depth my writing, but I don’t want to live there.  Writing or reading a story that’s all brooding anger and open wounds sounds terrible and exhausting for everyone involved.

Do your music preferences match what you listen too?  If you use a writers’ playlist, what does it reveal about you as a person or as a writer?  Follow up thought: do you longer works have playlist?  What about your characters?  My favorite creation, Roxi, has a playlist and I wonder how many other authors’ creations take on a life of own through music.

5 thoughts on “Question on the Hour: What place does Music have in Your Writing?”

  1. Just about any lyrics interrupt my flow, so I’m more of an instrumental/ambient kinda person. I use BrainFM and Spotify, mostly and a pair of Bose noise canceling headphones if my wife is watching TV or something.

    My instrumental music does depend on what I’m writing. I may go from Brian Eno style ambient, to electronica and synthwave, to jazz, to classical, to progressive rock. Movie scores are excellent for action sequences.

    My one exception to no lyrics is that I can listen to foreign language music with no problem. Scandinavian death metal, Afghan folk rock, etc. have all found their way into my playlists.

    1. Thanks for your response Lionel.  I find if it’s too quiet; I get agitated.  Sometimes, I like to sit in a bustling coffee shop and write. The amazing smell and general hubbub seem to be enough.

      1. Yeah, it may be a cliche, but I like writing in coffee shops. In fact, there are sound apps for the computer and the phone that simulate different auditory environments, including cafes and coffee shops and I’ve used them before when working from home when it was just too quiet.

        This is another of my favorites:

        In fact, this whole site is a lot of fun to find ambient soundscapes to work to.

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