Music and Writing: A Writer’s Playlist

Maybe it’s because I live in a city filled with distracting noises — car horns, drilling, and shouting — but whenever I sit down to write, I immediately put on my headphones. Suddenly, the world evaporates, and all that is left is the screen, with my words slowly trekking across it, and whatever music I’ve chosen as the tempo. Mostly it’s something ethereal and ambient, Brian Eno or Steve Reich, but other times, when I’m trying to work through a really difficult section, or simply wanting to motivate myself, I put on something faster and more defined, like Outkast or LCD Soundsystem.

Obviously, each person’s musical preference is specific to his or her own taste, and what you want to listen to while you write might be entirely different than what you’d dance to. But how does music affect your writing in general? Do you find yourself more productive when listening to music, or more easily distracted and prone to losing yourself in someone else’s art and not your own?

The science of music

A 2011 study found that listening to music dramatically increases brain function. A researcher on the study said, “Our results show for the first time how different musical features activate emotional, motor and creative areas of the brain.” However, others disagree. Geekpreneur notes: “The bottom line is that music always replaces thoughts. When you’re doing mechanical tasks — even if those tasks involve implementing creative ideas you’ve already thought of — music can be pleasant and helpful. When you need to think, though, the only sounds you should be able to hear are those of your own inner voice.”

Perhaps as more and more novels find a home on ebook, and writers begin to incorporate more media into what they write, ebooks will come with playlists that inform the story, or even let the reader in on what writers were listening to as they wrote. In that case, let’s get it started!

Share your sound

38 thoughts on “Music and Writing: A Writer’s Playlist”

  1. For now …
    When I want poetic and lyrical inspiration:
    Josh Garrels, Lecrae, Tripp Lee,
    When I desire an instrumental high:
    Olafur Arnalds, Zoe Keating, Rob Dougan

  2. Renee Pflughaupt

    I always flip on the music when I sit down to work. I find silence terribly distracting; the spoken word, doubly so.
    My favorite music when I am writing is varies day to day. I enjoy listening to the classics – Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms – as much as I do more recent compositions for Wind Ensemble, such as Maslanka, Daugherty or Colgrass.
    Generally, the better I know the song (having performed it, heard it in concert, etc.), the more useful it is to me as “white noise” while I work.

    1. @Renee – What a great answer. Like you, I turn to the classics for help concentrating.

  3. If you want something to listen too and be inspired by, then Vivaldi’s four seasons is a must play, or if its time to be angry try Billy Idol, or if you want to romance the words then try Sade or even Norah Jones

  4. Sebastian Martinez

    When I write-since I’m a college student and whatnot- I listen to a lot of rock and trailer music which gives me a boost when I write. I do tend to make big playlists too which is feels like an unofficial soundtrack to each story I write.

  5. Music plays a huge part in my story telling process. I often name chapters after certain tracks and I always make a soundtrack for each story I write, then when I read through the chapter or paragraph I play the piece of music I’ve associated with it and it spurs me on to write more.

    1. @Dee That sounds incredible. What a powerful and creative process. Thanks for sharing that here.

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