Friday, September 17, 2010

Music and writing

Listening to music while writing is a surprisingly controversial subject.  I’ve heard people say that they can’t get any work done if there’s music playing; personally, I can barely work without music or noise of some kind.  Back in college, I was most productive when working in a loud place like the student café - sequestered in the library, I’d start to lose focus, but when everyone around me was making noise, I just blocked it out and did my work.

If you can’t stand music while writing, this blog post won’t help you much.  As far as I can tell, there are two basic strategies for creating writing playlists.  First, a playlist of songs somehow related to what you’re writing.  If you’re in the midst of an ongoing project, you may find that a lot of songs suddenly seem very relevant or appropriate.  I have a playlist that I use specifically to write death scenes, as well as playlists that are thematically related to entire novels.  I’ll share a short one at the end of this post.

The other major strategy for building a playlist is songs that motivate you to write.  I find a driving beat helps keep my fingers moving; in fact, I tend to ignore the lyrics when choosing songs for this type of playlist and listen to stuff like Nine Inch Nails, Daft Punk, The Prodigy, etc.  Other people choose classical music over techno.  Don’t let other people’s judgment stop you from listening to music that helps you – if Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” on repeat is what finally gets the words flowing, don’t hold back out of shame (I once spent an hour writing to “When I Grow Up” by the Pussycat Dolls).

So, what do I listen to?  Here’s the playlist I’ve started building that I associate thematically with my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel.
  1. Runs in the Family, Amanda Palmer
  2. The Wondersmith and His Sons, Astronautalis
  3. Filthy Mind, Amanda Ghost
  4. Dance Off, We Are Scientists
  5. Send Him Away, Franz Ferdinand
  6. Stupid Thing, Nickel
  7. Jackie Wants a Black Eye, Dr. Dog
  8. F**k and Run, Liz Phair
  9. Kiss with a Fist, Florence + The Machine
  10. I Hate Everyone, Get Set Go
  11. Windowsill, Arcade Fire
  12. End of the Movie, Cake
  13. Kiss Me I'm #!@'faced, Dropkick Murphys
  14. It Ain't Me Babe, Johnny Cash


  1. I agree with you. I have to have music when I write. Actually can't write at all if it's too quiet. So you're my kind of writer :) And I have specific playlists to get me in the mood of the scene I'm writing too!

  2. And we're swapping roles, here; I have no idea how you do it, Nora. Kind of jealous.

  3. Heh, I do have my limits. For a little while I tried to write poetry while listening to music - worst idea ever.

    I am majorly jealous of your ability to actually go jogging, so we're even.