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 agree. Studies have proven that our brains are affected by music. If it’s that powerful, why *not* tap into it!

  2. Ha, and I thought I was the only one who felt all this. 🙂 Beautiful post! And I like your choice of music. 😉

  3. The writing life can be so crazy sometimes that we can feel we’re the only ones who do things a certain way. It’s comforting to know we’re all more or less in the same boat!

  4. I have these 7 CD’s on my laptop and iPod of just piano solos, and that’s what I will listen to when I write. Not too loud, but loud enough for it to be in the background. The artists are Michael Jones (albums Seascapes and Daybreak), David Lanz (albums Heartsounds and Nightfall), and George Winston (albums Autumn, Forest, and Summer). I love listening to these. I have also been known to occasionally listen to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but that isn’t as good for me because I will get distracted with changing the song and what not. But I agree, music DEFINITELY helps me when I write.

  5. If I have an album with songs I don’t like or that don’t work for writing, I end up having to delete the distracting songs from my playlist. Otherwise I have to interrupt my writing to skip them too.

  6. Well, Katie, ya hit the nerve center.

    Since I’m a songwriter, I have a really really hard time NOT writing songs while I’m writing my novel.

    On this year’s novel for NaNoWriMo I wrote six songs (court-jester material, mainly) that were full-length, and an additional 5 that were cute little ditty-blurbs.

    In the plot, a myna bird who was trained as an assistant to the ranger/jester kept getting triggered to sing some song at the top of his lungs by random conversation around him.

    The kicker is that he also recorded some important conversations…

    If you want to hear some of the songs drop me a note, you can contact me and I’ll send you a link.

  7. Sounds like fun! My attempts to insert poetry/songs into my fiction is always laughable (unintentionally so), so I have a lot of admiration for those who can make it work!

  8. So true. Music is definitely a source of inspiration for writing. I often write with backround music in my head for the characters. Its like a theme for their particular emotional state.

    Pathos pure: Romeo&Juliet by Hector Berlioz.
    Beethoven’s 7th.
    Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe.
    Brahams 2nd is frothy and melancholy.
    Bruckner’s 4th – melancholic pathos.

    Music is what makes me believe there must be a god.

  9. I haven’t heard of any of these (except for Beethoven’s), so I’ll keep my eyes open for them!

  10. Schuberts Unfinished Symphony is great
    Stravinsky’s The Firebird
    Prokoviev’s Cinderella and Romeo&Juliet great for writing romance
    Tchaikovsky of course…..
    Mendelson’s Midsummer Nights Dream is wonderful….ok, I’ll shut up now.

    ; )

    PS I used to be a ballet dancer and play the piano, thats why I know alot of classical music.

  11. Oh, I love Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky!

  12. I agree totally when you say music is an inspiration. I would not want to live in a world where there was no music!!!

  13. If I had to choose sense to lose, hearing would be the last to go. Life without music would be difficult, to say the least!

  14. Hey Katie, brilliant article! Just seen this and wanted to thank you for quoting me and linking to my FYW article. Thanks for reading, and glad you liked what I had to say and felt it worth quoting 🙂

    Have been enjoying writing to the District 9 soundtrack recently.

    Thanks again Katie!

  15. My pleasure, Christopher! Thanks for stopping by. Haven’t heard the District 9 soundtrack yet, but I’ll see if I can check it out!

  16. Thanks for the post, nice blog i will share and revisit.

  17. Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for commenting.

  18. I get to cheat on this one. Having DJ’d for 15 years I have, literally, millions of songs. I have the unique ability to make an individual playlist for novel/chapter/scene/and character. Each has its own set of music. Using my DJ program I can set my mixer to mix an appropriate length of music for the time I am writing. 2 Minutes inside of Virtual DJ before I begin and I am set 🙂

  19. Virtual DJ sounds like an interesting program. I’m wondering if it’s something the average non-DJ would be able to figure out and use.

  20. I’m a huge music junkie, so its not surprising that it’s one of my biggest sources of inspiration. Once, an entire album inspired me to think at things a different way and what resulted was an album fic… or so it started that way. The meaning got a little lost when the plot went array. Long story there.
    But sometimes keeping music close by can help jostle a scene or reinvigorate something that’s laid dormant for years.
    I tend to be a very visual person and that carries over from listening to music to my writing… it makes for the ultimate adrenaline rush when something beautiful comes out of it all.
    I’d only just started to recognize movie score composers. John Williams is one of the all-time greats, but between Sherlock Holmes and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Hans Zimmer is a personal favorite of mine. In fact, it would seem that he’s almost everywhere.

  21. You’ve just named two of my favorite composers! Zimmer and Williams have put out some truly brilliant stuff over the years. I have many of their albums on my writing playlist.

  22. Enjoyed this post. I ordinarily don’t write to music. My thought is it would be too distracting. Going to give it a try. Thanks for the list of your favorite music. A good starting point.

  23. It’s true some writers do better to complete silence. But music is definitely worth a try, in my opinion. Give it a little time, since if you’re used to writing in silence, you may find it distracting at first.

  24. My absolute favorite writing music comes from Ellie Goulding’s first album, “Lights”. Now, I know what you’re thinking- I am not going to write while listening to mainstream pop. HOWEVER, the overall theme of the album, the lyrics, the essence of the feelings that this magical album produces is enough to explore just a few songs. I think the whole thing is about 50 minutes. I strongly recommend that anyone looking for more music listen to this album- it is incredible.

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