How Writing Music Will Make You a Better Writer

How to Hijack Mind-Blowing Inspiration: Music for Writers

Music is arguably the purest art form. It’s a breathing of the soul, a perfect embodiment of emotion, a story without words. For the most part, we lowly writers can barely hope to tell as complete a story in 300 pages as can be found in almost any collection of musical notes.

If you’re a composer or a musician, God bless you. You’re sharing a little bit of magic in everything you do. If, on the other hand, you’re like me and your only musical accomplishment is playing the radio, your best hope of sharing some of music’s clarity and emotional depth is to tap into it as a springboard for your writing.

How Music for Writers Inspires Me

The arts feed off each other, but perhaps never more so than in the case of music. I’d venture to say we’ve all been driving down the road, listening to the radio, humming along, only to find our next story idea buried within the lyrics.

A Man Called Outlaw was inspired by the western ballad “Outlaw Canyon”; battle scenes in my medieval novel Behold the Dawn came to life through Loreena McKennitt’s “The Mummer’s Dance”; and my work-in-progress found the twist in its ending through a Jeremy Camp song.

I put my iPod on shuffle while I workout in the mornings and just wait for the next spurt of inspiration to hit me. It’s a glorious thing.

How to Purposefully Use Music for Writers

If something so incidental as a random music lyric can fire up the muse, why not approach it a little more purposefully? Why not tap into the power of music when you need the inspiration most: while you’re writing. In his recent post “Five Bands You Should Be Writing To,” Christopher Jackson says:

Music can be a powerful tool. It can continually inspire you as you write…. By creating a mood it can fuel your writing and drive it to places you might not otherwise go. Also, I find that listening to music as I write can help me block out distractions—both physical ones demanding my attention, like people and noises, but also distractions in my head, random thoughts and “Things You Need To Do” fighting for your attention and telling you to stop wasting time writing stories. By listening to music, especially through headphones, you may find it easier to settle into the writing zone, to shut out those other distractions by filling your ears with sound and clearing your mind, especially with ambient or instrumental music.

In his post “Infusing Your Fiction With Heart and Soul: An Exercise”, “storyfixer” Larry Brooks advocates using:

…music to tap into a level of perception, appreciation and creative energy that seems otherwise inaccessible. One way to write scenes with greater depth and emotional resonance is to select music—I suggest movie themes—that matches the contextual mission of the scene itself.

Music for Writers: Movie Soundtracks

Movie soundtracks are my own music of choice while writing. The inherent drama—the ebb and flow of action and poignancy—lends itself well to the needs of fiction. I avoid lyrics for the most part, both because they distract me and because I dislike “dulling” favorite songs by training my brain to force them into the background.

Albums with plenty of loud, intense action themes are handy, not just for battle scenes, but for ramping up my own adrenaline and keeping my fingers flying over the keyboard. My word-per-minute rate never fails to skyrocket whenever “The Battle,” the third track on the Gladiator soundtrack starts rumbling my subwoofer.

I only rarely select music to fit whatever scene I happen to be writing. I prefer to let the music surprise me, to affect my words in ways I may not have otherwise found. Writing battle scenes to the plaintive “Love Theme” from Attack of the Clones or love scenes to the aggressive drum beat of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World’s “Smoke N’ Oakum” always brings out elements I wouldn’t otherwise have found.

If you haven’t already done so, make music a part of your writing routine—and reap the benefits of immersion in the magical realm of stories without words. Below are some of my favorite soundtracks. I’d love to hear about your own favorite writing music!

My Favorite Music for Writers

Gladiator by Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard, & Klaus Badalt

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves by Michael Kamen

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Howard Shore

The Patriot by John Willliams

American Outlaws by Trevor Rabin

Star Wars series by John Williams

Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer

The Last of the Mohicans by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman

Black Hawk Down by Hans Zimmer

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World by Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon, Richard Tognetti

Treasure Planet by James Newton Howard

How Writing Music Will Make You a Better Writer

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I’ll check it out! I prefer not to write to lyrics, but I use them for general inspiration all the time.

  2. Great article! I agree that listening to music can help you get into the writing ‘zone’ much faster , and help the creative juices flow. Writing music, particularly writing lyrics to music, is a very rewarding experience.

  3. R. R. Willica says

    I’m very fond of a Two Steps from Hell for my writing. Don’t let the name fool you, they have amazing cinematic quality music on YouTube. Another favorite is Pandora Journey. I think they are just playlists of epic music by many artists. But, I set up a playlist to run while I work. Sometimes the images they use in their videoed are also inspiring.

    Personally, I can’t write to music with lyrics. As a singer, I get caught up in the words and lose my focus.

  4. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    Best ever!

  5. My list is similar. I would also add “Braveheart” and a fabulous website: jazzandrain.com.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for the website! I’ll check it out. I love rain as a background noise. And I agree, Braveheart is excellent, one of Horner’s best along with Titanic.

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