If writing is a fire, music can be the lighter fluid.
For some writers, there’s nothing like a good song to ignite their creativity. If that sounds like you, this article might help improve your writing playlist. If not, maybe I’ll inspire you to switch on some tunes next time you write.
One note before we begin: Musical tastes are as diverse as reading tastes (or really any form of art). Therefore, I don’t think my definitive power rankings of The Who albums will be especially helpful to you. Instead, I’ll focus more on concepts and less on specific song choices. Let’s get to it!
Long reputed to increase intelligence, I find classical music is a great listen while writing. It’s usually solely instrumental, which I find especially helpful. After all, most commercial music features lyrics. Those lyrics, no matter how poetic, can become distracting when we’re trying to craft our own words on paper or screen.
But no lyrics, no problem. I’m no connoisseur of classical music, but you can search Spotify or YouTube for any number of excellent playlists. Search “music for creativity” for best results.
It Might Get Loud
Noisy neighbors, nearby construction, and busy cafés (remember those?) can be impediments to successful writing. Music is a welcome help in these situations—the louder, the better.
As with all of these suggestions, personal taste is paramount. If I wanted something loud, I myself would play Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden. However, I am fully aware that this music will not appeal to all people. So only opt for this form of music if you already like it.
Also, keep in mind that loud music can have the opposite effect of what’s desired. It may block out exterior noise, yes. But when music becomes too blaring, it can dominate the senses. Reserve those decibels for only the most dire situations (unless headbanging is essential for your creative process).
Cue the Soundtrack
I do not have much personal experience listening to movie soundtracks while writing. However, I know many writers who find it exhilarating.
Since soundtracks are made to match the moods of scenes within films, they tend to be especially evocative. For example, I challenge you to listen to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack and not feel like you’re sailing the seven seas. Or take the soundtrack for Interstellar, which will almost certainly give you the sensation of hurtling through space. (Both happen to be Hans Zimmer scores. On behalf of writers everywhere, thanks Hans!)
The applications for soundtracks are clear: find a great soundtrack that matches the genre you’re writing in. If you’re penning a fantasy epic, try Howard Shore’s score from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you’re writing an espionage thriller, try listening to the scores from the James Bond films. Aligning your music with your writing can help enhance your feelings of immersion in your work—and therefore make your work better.
A Word of Warning
Music can help productivity. But the wrong kind of music can also hinder it. Take new music, for example.
I’ve already hinted at my love of The Who, so I’ll bore you with it some more. In 2019, they released a new album (a big deal, since they’ve been around since 1963). The day the album dropped, I tried listening to it while doing my morning writing. Bad idea.
The entire time I listened, I found myself paying closer attention to the lyrics and instrumentation of the album than my writing. I’d break mid-sentence to appreciate a guitar solo or close my eyes altogether during a chorus. Put simply, it became a distraction rather than an aid.
I don’t have this problem with albums I’ve heard before, such at their 1973 masterpiece Quadrophenia. But that’s because I know the sequence of the songs by heart, and because I can anticipate the moments to strike a quick windmill chord on my air guitar. All in all, it’s familiar enough not to distract me.
Your personal habits may differ, but as a heuristic, I’d recommend avoiding music you’ve never heard before while writing.
To reiterate: music is all about personal taste. Some writers might need to stick to classical music, while others might be perfectly fine listening to new music while crafting prose. No matter what your habits are, I’m a huge proponent of trying several methods and seeing what strikes a chord.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some classic vinyl to attend to. Until next time!
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