Three Reasons Writers Need Music

The other day, a writer friend of mine and I discussed the value of listening to music while scribing.  We compared notes on the types of music we liked in the background as our fingers danced over the keyboards in story creation.  We also discussed which music genres we thought were best suited for which genres of writing.  We even discussed how the rhythm or repetition within a song or style of music can aid or inhibit certain types of writing.

This discussion lingered and got me thinking about my own musical tastes while writing and how it helps me.  I came up with three questions about music and writing, and many more answers.

1. Why do many writers enjoy listening to music while writing?

2. What are the benefits?

3. Is there music best suited for particular types of writing?

If you read “On Writing” by Stephen King you’ll discover that he predominantly listens to rock and roll music while he writes.  He is an accomplished rock guitarist and his stories and novels are populated with rock song references so it all fits in with his persona and preferences as one of the most successful novelists of all time.  Peter Straub, another horror writer prefers to listen to classical music while writing.  I’m sure most successful authors listen to music at one time or another, and some must have music on while writing.   It is simply part of their writing routine.

Why is this?

I can’t answer that question for other authors.  For myself, music helps me with the emotional undercurrents of a story.  In a movie, the score and soundtrack bring out the emotion of a moment, whether it is a suspenseful threat to the characters, a battle scene, or a moment of loss and reflection.  Music enhances the emotions and what the audience feels.  Music in the background while I write helps feed my subconscious with motifs, sounds, currents, feelings, and auditory ideas that I can draw from when the time is right in a story.  Music helps me go deeper into the story and hopefully to convey that to the written version of it.  Music is a source of inspiration.

Again, I cannot speak to the benefits of music to other authors, but I can share how music benefits my writing.  First, my writing desk is not isolated in my home and to aid in my concentration and to reduce background noise in a busy household, I use noise cancelling ear buds and listen to music via my laptop.  This helps create a writing environment that more conducive to concentration on the story and characters and reduces outside distractions.  Second, as noted above, music inspires the emotional content of writing when matched in genre.  I’ll discuss more about that in the next paragraph.  Third, music can directly influence your stories and bits of song lyrics you’ve heard may be appropriate for an event or scene in your story.  (Just beware of copyright issues and get permission for use of any commercially published music that is still under copyright.)

What music best matches what types of writing?  That is actually a question for each author to answer for themselves.  The correct answer is whatever works best for you.  If you don’t know what works best for you, try listening to different music during your writing sessions over a two-week period and see what music genre inspires you most or what helps you get into the story best.  What music seems to enhance your writing experience?  This is a personal decision.

For me, when I wrote horror stories earlier in my development as a writer, I listened to heavy metal.  The tone of the music seemed to fit the nature of what I wrote.  The past decade or so, I listen to more tailored music.  While writing my romantic comedy screenplay, I listened to popular music from our iTunes library.  A mix of all kinds of rock and all kinds of artists.  When I began writing epic fantasy, I began listening to classical music via Pandora Radio and eventually settled on a custom station based on the soundtracks of Braveheart and Gladiator.  Big, epic, deep, powerful music helps me with the type of epic fantasy novels I’m writing.  This works for me.

Musical tastes are very personal and should be.  Many writers find that music helps their writing.  Music can inspire, influence, seclude, and focus the writer’s mind during story creation.

Does music do this for your writing?

What works best for you?

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5 responses to “Three Reasons Writers Need Music

  • Scott

    Great post. I’ve gone back and forth on this lots of times. When I do listen to music while writing, it can only be certain kinds. My station is probably similar to yours on pandora. It’s based on Nobuo Uematsu and Final Fantasy. Big, epic music. Fantasy based classical, if you will. I can also do classical, or soft piano music. There is NO way I could listen to rock in any form while writing. When I get to the hard scenes, or even when I’m brainstorming, I cant even have anything on. I have to have silence…

  • Stephen A. Watkins

    Yeah, for me, when I’m in deep writing mode I prefer music. During brainstorming and background writing, I can do without, but when actually crafting the story music helps.

    Most of my work is fantasy, so I rely heavily on fantasy and fantasy-like soundtracks. Willow, The Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Final Fantasy, and a healthy dose of Anime.

    I can’t do much with lyrics in English. It’s too distracting. But foreign-language lyrics or unintelligible lyrics do just fine.

    I also often avoid music that’s too iconic – like Star Wars or Indiana Jones. (Or almost anything by John Williams, pretty much. I love Williams a lot, but his soundtracks are very distinctive to their respective films.)

    More recently, I’ve beun an experiment where I further parse my music library not only by genre, but my mood. So light, idyllic stuff during my hero’s downtime. Heavy, loud, bombastic and dark motifs when the villain is on stage. Trumpety and heroic stuff when the hero is being all heroic. That sort of thing.

    • Mark J. Taylor

      You’re a step ahead of me with the parsing of mood music based on the parallel events in your story. Using Pandora, I find the music doesn’t always match the tone of the scene I’m writing.

      Has the experiment worked? Is the focused music helping those relevant scenes?

  • butchie34

    I have to say that I love rock music when I’m writing and use it whenever I’m writing, no matter what phase. I’ve tried the score for the Lord of the Rings but it pulls me out of the story.

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MY SPOT OF INK: my ramblings on the ups and downs of writing a fantasy novel (or anything else that grabs my interest - books, food, movies, life)

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