How Music Affects the Writing Process

How Music Affects the Writing Process

Music is used in stores to prolong the shopping experience. In movies, music (or the lack of it) is utilized to enhance the scene. Advertising agencies have invested time and money into music for jingles that keep products in your head or a television series in the forefront of your mind.

Music is also one of the key aspects of my writing process.

Music Encourages Focus

The first step in my writing process is to turn on my music. I do not require utter silence in order to write. In fact, silence is distracting, which might be due to my history as a one-in-four sibling growing up on a 30-acre homestead in Oregon. There was always some type of noise to compete with. This forced me to learn to “tune out” in order to get anything done. Now, I look to music and other types of white noise to keep me on task.

To give me something to ignore. Seriously. I wish I had my headphones right now so I could tune out the television and conversations booming behind me.

Music Enhances Mood

I have more than seven days of music on my computer in genres ranging from alternative to industrial to techno. This broad range of styles helps me create a writing soundtrack, as it were, for a specific scene, character, era, or particular intensity I want to impart to my readers. For my newest release Searching for Sara, I utilized my playlist of classical music to submerse myself in music of the period (the novel is set in the mid 1890s). I enhanced that selection with more modern symphonic undertones to help me with scenes of dark intensity and grief. Having that foundation encouraged my mind to seek out those power words to convey the agony of the hero.

Music Promotes Inspiration

Did you ever hear a piece of music or watch a movie that tugged at your heart and soul so profoundly you were left to sit in utter silence? The Christian groups Skillet and Building 429 are two such artists who inspire me to create characters or scenes. Their melodies and lyrics move me to seek an outlet for those poignant emotions. In fact, I generally listen to Christian alternative or rock while working on my Young Adult fiction series Changing Scenes, in order to harness the chaos and intense emotions I remember experiencing as a teen.

Music Encourages Us to Seek Inspiration

I cannot stress enough the importance of finding those doors and windows to your writing passion. If you are intrigued and loving (or hating) of your characters, your readers will pick up on that intensity and turn pages. Music helps me “channel” the necessary mood. But what about you? What have you found that encourages inspiration?

Tell me your opinion: Do you listen to music while writing?

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About Nona Mae King

Nona King is an independent
writing professional for Angel Breath Books. She has dedicated herself to
writing true-to-life characters, be they villain or hero, so her readers can
experience life and its many passions. All her stories focus on faith, honor,
and the importance of communication and trust in our relationships with others. Her latest book is Searching for Sara, story of how two people face their daily tortures of fear and grief to find healing and
happiness.

Comments

  1. Whether or not I listen to music while writing depends on my mood. Sometimes its a distraction, sometimes its an inspiration, sometimes I tune it out, and sometimes I end up writing like the artist.

  2. I can’t write without listening to music. If I do, I feel like my writing is all over the place. It really does help me with concentration and I feel as though my ideas flow better when I’m listening to music. I thought I was weird. I guess not!

  3. As a musician myself, I cannot listen to background music, because it quickly becomes foreground music. I’m pretty good at tuning out everything around me – though some significant hearing loss from years in front of very loud drummers undoubtedly makes that process easier. So I don’t need silence; a Starbucks or an airplane seat are perfectly fine places to write. But I either tune the music out totally or focus on it; the latter, I fear, isn’t good for my writing.

  4. Hey there, Nona! Great post. Miss you in our group!!! So excited for everything I’ve been seeing about SARA.

  5. Yes. I agree with everything this article says, so I am interested in where the research came from. It’s something I am writing about now.

  6. I need quiet or white noise when I write. Music is far too distracting, as I need to be able to hear in my head what’s happening in the scene I’m working on, whether it’s ambient sounds or what the characters are saying. I wrote my first novel on a commuter train, and loved that. Aside from capturing all that dead time, the sounds of the train and the chatter of the other riders faded quickly, and actually became a Pavlovian trigger for my creative process.

    I also paint, though, and music is a MUST for that. In particular, I like to listen to Bach, which seems to shut off the left hemisphere, and allows my right hemisphere to activate.

    Moral of the story: Different strokes for different folks.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    Peter
    Writing as AR Silverberry

  7. Yes, great post. I listen to music while writing, during research, etc. I often change music to set the proper tone.

    I’ve used music as a tool to draw out creativity my entire career. When I worked as a media producer, I used it to enhance my productions.

  8. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Nona!

  9. Thanks for sharing! I have to listen to music when I write. It does inspire me!! Movie soundtracks work best because they are already written to a story. How cool is that??

    • Soundtracks are definitely a first when I’m seeking additional emotional inspiration. Especially if I simply do not know what needs to be chosen. A soundtrack is a great place to start.

  10. I found a couple of links–http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1281386/
    and http://uncc49er.com/622/music-can-help-you-study/

    Anecdotal–For years I wrote without music. Recently I decided to invest in good headphones and started listening to a variety of music while I wrote. Wow! Ideas began popping.

    Thanks for sharing, Nona!

  11. I am always listening to music while writing. Silence is distracting, as are people’s voices. I don’t choose particular music to help build the mood–I’ll listen to anything as long as it creates a musical cushion around my ears!

  12. Thanks for the post, Nona!

    I usually write with music too… but that´s mostly in order to keep me awake! lol. I have a full time job, so I´m not hard to put to sleep at all.

    But you are right, music is inspiring in so many ways!

  13. Thank you, everyone, for your comments and your time. 🙂 It was great to stop by this holiday season and read about all of your own experiences.

    Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas.

  14. I’ve done several posts on my own blog about music and my writing and how I use it for inspiration and even research – so it’s wonderful to see that I’m not the only writer who is so deeply affected by music. 🙂

  15. SO true! I tend to enjoy movie themed music while I write. I think of the story of the movie, which inspires me to write mine!

  16. If anyone’s interested, I find and add youtube music to playlists to set certain moods. You can access these free playlists at:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/dmandrewsauthor/videos?flow=grid&view=1

    Youtube also allows you to loop the playlists 😉

  17. I always listen to music while writing. Headphones on, browser closed, Scrivener open, that’s how I write. I’m finding revising an entirely different beast. Part of my revision process is reading dialog aloud and often full paragraphs, and for that I find silence is key.

  18. Actually yes, I listen to music that sets me in the mood for a military battle, or a gulag camp in stalinist Russia, and of course cyberpunk music. I have not found instrumental music about exploration of ones identity though.

    Also Alexander, one of my favorite RPGs.^^

  19. I have to listen to music. It keeps me focused on my characters. I actually got the idea for my book and many of my main characters by listening to music. I even named my main character after my two favorite bands. Her name is Molly Murphy. (named after Irish rock bands Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys.)
    I even has a playlist for my book. When I have trouble coming up with character descriptions or scenes, I listen to this playlist.

  20. I recently wrote an article really similar to this over at Renegade Word. I think our thoughts on the matter more or less line up, particularly in the areas of mood enhancement and inspiration. I use making a playlist as part of the process to get inside my characters’ heads and I also use music from when I was a teenager A LOT. I find re-discovering older stuff I used to love often brings past experiences that I can draw on right back to the present moment. Thanks for your article!

  21. It depends on my mood as well. Sometimes the hum of the refrigerator is all I can handle. Other times it has to be instrumental or I end up spending more time singing the words than writing.

  22. Nice to see you’re a fellow Skillet fan Nona. Personally I need silence to write, but that doesn’t mean that music doesn’t inspire me. I always tend to have a theme song for each novel. For my current WIP it is ‘For Those Who Wait’ by Fireflight. My last novel was ‘Hero’ by Skillet. Sometimes I’ll listen to a piece of music before I start writing to get the mood or passion going.

  23. I never thought of music in this way when I write. I simply had it turned on for background sound. Now it has purpose. Thanks!

  24. For a project I’d been brainstorming for, maybe, more than a year now, inspiration HIT when I was listening to my iPod. Then I started compiling this list of music that goes with the core themes: female empowerment and South American flavors, so most of it is Lady Gaga and Nelly Furtado’s “Loose” album. I plan on connecting different songs with different sequences, but at the moment, I listen to my unofficial playlists in hopes I’ll fill in another plot hole in my storyline (which is half mental and half written down).
    Usually if music inspires my writing, I start writing after I hear something that piques my interest, not during (a little too distracting for my tastes).

  25. I listen to music pretty much whenever I’m on the computer, which is a majority of the time, because I’m a software engineer by trade. I’ve tracked my music listening habits on Last.fm since January 2007 (my Last.fm profile is at http://www.last.fm/user/menslar if you’d like to check it out), and over that time I’ve listened to an average of 80 tracks a day every day while on the computer. My current playlist, which is a small part of my library, has over 1000 different tracks in it (it’s actually over 2000 tracks, but some are duplicates).

    I find that music helps me focus, especially if it’s familiar music. Unfamiliar music can distract me, but if I really want to add a distracting unfamiliar track to my playlists, I’ll listen to it long enough to make it familiar, usually requiring not more than two or three plays.

    There is no rhyme or reason to what I choose to play. I’ll sometimes listen to one song or a small selection of songs on repeat for hours at a time. I might listen to an album or two in their entirety and follow that up with a randomly generated playlist.

    A few days ago I was listening to the Cher Lloyd album on repeat for a couple of days straight. Now I’m listening to a playlist with songs by many different artists, created by scanning through my library, adding select songs and albums, some in duplicate, and then shuffling the playlist several times. The tracks in the playlist range from the 50s through today. There are many genres represented: classic rock, disco, funk, soul, country, gospel, alternative rock, heavy metal, pop, dance, and hip-hop. Right now I’m listening to a song by Pillowfight. Before that were tracks by Sia, Taylor Swift, Fefe Dobson, Stealers Wheel, Bad Company, Madonna, Tegan and Sara, Peter Frampton, and Yuna.

    I feel that all this music listening fuels my creativity and blocks out other noises that I would find distracting. That’s two good reasons for me to listen to music. But another benefit to me is that it keeps me from being totally sedentary. I’m often moving some part of my body in rhythm with the music, usually without even realizing it.

  26. Great article, but I don’t think that music is contributory towards the free-flow augmentation of writing process as I have my own strong conviction that it entirely depends on your mood and surrounding. I think, it’s not the music, it’s your mind’s status-quo at the time of writing that matters in the outcome of the quality of your writing.

  27. Ah, great article! I can write without music or with it; it somewhat depends on my mood, I guess. There is some music that I can write to no matter my mood, other music that if I listen to it I end up getting so drawn into it I forget to write. 😛 I do like to make up “soundtracks” to stories that I love (usually tales by Tolkien, historical events, or the lives of historical figures I’m particularly interested in). I’ve never really thought to make a soundtrack to my stories, for some reason. Hm, might have to try that now.
    But music has definitely inspired stories for me. One of my fantasy stories was first conceived listening to David Arkenstone’s “Behind Walls of Stone”. It sounded like a desperate battle to me, and I was inspired to jot down this moment where a soldier in the battle was trying to get to his king before he was struck down by three enemy soldiers who had ganged up on him. It grew from there.
    The “always-write-to” music would be most Baroque music (especially Vivaldi <3), game soundtracks that are meant to be ambient music anyway (like Age of Empires (all three games), some Oblivian music, Anno 1602, Caesar III, Pharaoh, etc.), and songs I know really well (usually without words). I find the game soundtracks wonderfully atmospheric for creating the Ancient World or my fantasy world in my head, because most are inspired by and meant to evoke the Ancient World. They're awesome for research, too. I can usually write to Historical Music reconstructions too, like Michael Levy (Ancient Lyre music), SAVE (I adore their reconstruction of the 2nd century Greek "Epitaph of Sykolos"), and Vox Vulgaris (they do Medieval music).
    I can sometimes write to movie soundtracks and the epic, orchestral music created by companies like TSFH, Future World Music, Jo Blackenburg (I can't remember what company he composes for; his music is sublime!), Groove Addicts, Immediate Music, etc. That tends to be more inspiration music if I can't figure out where to take a story, or for use in "soundtracks".
    I LOVE electronic music, especially the sub-genre called Uplifting Trance. That usually is not writing music, though, as I always get so caught up in the beauty and emotion of it that I can't focus on writing. XD I research to it, however, and it can be great world-building music.

  28. I haven’t but perhaps I should.

  29. Music is an essential part of my writing process. My cowriter and I are in the habit of picking a “soundtrack” for our fantasy novels, and we usually pick a Celtic Thunder/Woman theme song for each novel because of the Celtic influence in the stories. I’ve even put a song on repeat for a few hours because it was the perfect mood I needed for a specific scene I was working on.

  30. Because my first novel “Rock and Roll Children” was based on music, (It’s the story of four metalheads in the 1980s) I would listen to like minded music for inspiration. However, now that it’s been out for a few years, I wonder if music was more of a distraction as there are many many things I would have done different.

  31. Kimberly Bea says:

    I listen to New Age or World Music while writing, in part because I live in an apartment and the rhythmic noise helps drown out the rand random sounds. I also like to make playlists for my stories to gear me up to write; I need songs without lyrics I understand while I write, but having a soundtrack helps me get into the proper mind space before I do.

  32. I am very easily distracted, especially when I write, so writing with music on has never been something I have tried. But, after reading this post I tested it. I knew I would never be able to concentrate if the music had lyrics so I tried writing while listening to film-music. And it helped! I was more concentrated then I have been in a long time! Thank you!

  33. I can’t write without music
    I always listen to Amelie Soundtrack wired but I feel like music must be part of my soul so I won’t hear it , the sound will go deep down my soul and raise me to the writing mood
    so I listen to music but I’m not listening .

  34. Amelia Jacobson says:

    I listen to music while drawing, but I’ve never tried doing it while I write…. I’ll have to give it a try.

  35. darkocean says:

    I never knew anyone else did this. =D Sometimes while writing a chapter a song will pop into my head as clear as if it’s playing. So I have to go hunt it own on you-tube, tab it and listen to it while finishing the chapter. I think each chapter decides it’s own mood.

    Bon von Jovi’s Blaze of glory is the one I play while working on the end chapters. That beautiful voice and eh meaning behind the words makes me almost teary. (I know, melodrama 😛 lol.) Sometimes a song fits into a chapter like, a lost puzzle piece.

  36. What I’d like to know is: Do you have a music folder in Scrivener to keep your all music handy for each project? Or, do you keep a song or two in each scene to evoke the atmosphere of the action at hand?

    I just recently discovered your website and have found it very helpful. Thank you very much.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You can put music in Scrivener? I didn’t even know it could do that. So, obviously, no. :p I usually just pick an appropriate soundtrack and go from there.

  37. I can only write to the music I know so that I don’t pay attention to words or something new that would distract me. And it’s also intereresting to discover other writers’ playlists, which I do here http://musicforwriters.com/

  38. Great article. Thank you. Found it while wondering if other writers use music as I do. Classical is helpful but I can only take about 20 minutes of that before I feel I’m having my teeth drilled. Rock, jazz- yes. To me, the best writing is rhythmic, it has quiet periods and builds to thundering crescendos. Then back to calm, rational or puzzled or sad or even happy. Quiet periods must be had to give me (and the reader) a rest- like a roller coaster. There are lesser and greater crescendos, and lesser and greater pullbacks, just like music. My genre is spy novels (without all the guns and bombs- more cerebral than physical), but I don’t think use of music is genre-specific.

  39. This is exactly how I’ve liked to write for many years, not only my opinion pieces and former articles but my poetry and my blogging. Music is an inspiration and I do find silence and being spoken to a distraction, yet I will sit in a cafe with my headphones plugged in and will write away, I even find it easy to do my research by music as it helps me visualise, imagine and focus.

    Although I seem to have hit this kind of block where I can write blogs etc but I have not been able to return to my draft stories for many years.

  40. My mom always yells at me when I have music on and I’m trying to write a paper. Thanks for this article now I can show her that it really does help!

    • See it her way music she didn’t grow up with and doesn’t have the taste for is being played very loudly and it’s irritating to her. Plug in your ear buds to a front port and you both can be happy.

Trackbacks

  1. […] How Music Affects the Writing Process at Helping Writers Become Authors […]

  2. […] you ever listened to music while you wrote? Did you know that it can effect the way you write or the type of scene you […]

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  4. […] Writers to Authors: How Music Affects the Writing Process […]

  5. […] King, a romance author, praises the inspiration music gives her while writing, suggesting that it helps her channel the right mood. Another article on Writability also recommends listening to music while writing for the same […]

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  10. […] had her students exploring was how music effects writing.  She provided a link to the website Helping Writers Become Authors, where students could read an article on this topic.  There is also a page in the blog with a […]

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