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Writing to Music and Soundtracks
Michael R Underwood
Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 6:35 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74

I know I'm not totally alone, but who out there writes to music?  And if you do, do you have standard music for all writing or do you create soundtracks?

I've taken to making soundtracks for my works-in-progress to serve as emotional anchors and inspiration, songs that get me into the mood I want to channel for my writing.

For instance, the album "Lungs" from Florence + The Machine has been a huge boon for my productivity in writing my current Urban Fantasy, especially the songs "Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up) and "Dog Days are Over."

Mahesh Raj Mohan
Posted: Saturday, March 5, 2011 7:15 PM
Joined: 2/28/2011
Posts: 60

I'm totally with you on this, Michael. I used to only listen to soundtracks/classical while writing, but now I can listen to pretty much anything. I tend to like anthemic stuff. Dog Days are Over would be a great motivator! When I edit or revise, I tend to need silence, though.
Michael R Underwood
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2011 3:54 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74

Interesting note on editing/revising. I'll still use music when revising, but for that mode, I tend towards techno or something high-energy to keep up my spirits during the long slog of editing. However, if I'm doing re-writing and story patching, I'll still use my soundtrack, so there's a conceptual difference in my brain for different tasks in the editing/revising stage.
Mahesh Raj Mohan
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2011 6:54 PM
Joined: 2/28/2011
Posts: 60

Yup, with you on the conceptual difference. Techno, seriously? The beat doesn't distract you? That's cool, I'm envious.
Ellie Isis
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2011 10:33 PM
Joined: 3/4/2011
Posts: 60

I prefer to write without music, or to music without words - new age mostly. Music in other languages works well, also. I like the Cirque du Soleil soundtracks for that. Anything with words is distracting to me. I do, however, generate initial story ideas to music with words. Very powerful lyrics will define some characters for me, or give me new ways to torture them . . .
Tim Johnson
Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 3:56 AM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 15

Holy crap Ellie, you gave me a great idea... I never even thought about the cirque du soleil stuff and they are sitting right there! I'll let you know how it works. Typically I listen to eletronic mixes from club DJ's. They last hours and don't have a lot of meaningful words. Now i'm going to try the cirque soundtracks!
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 5:53 PM
I feel exactly the same as Ellie here! I can't write with music on--lyrics get in the way of the words in my head! But many an idea or character has grown out of music. It's very powerful and significant to me!
Ellie Isis
Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 9:38 PM
Joined: 3/4/2011
Posts: 60

Hey Tim, glad I could help. Those soundtracks are very emotionally powerful, even though I don't understand a word of French.
Posted: Saturday, March 12, 2011 5:39 AM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 30

For me it depends on what I'm working on. If I'm writing a first draft or new material, as Danielle and Ellie said, lyrics will get in the way. So, times like that, I throw own some techno/trance. (The TRON Legacy Soundtrack was really helpful on my last round of revisions.) Or, I just write in silence.

Sometimes, though, if I'm trying to tap into a particular character, I have a set soundtrack that I'll put on shuffle.

When I'm editing... anything goes.

While working on my latest project, a novella, I had Pandora going in the background. The songs Pandora selected created the perfect soundtrack to the scene I was writing and only helped me... lyrics and all.

So, for me, I guess it just depends on the story I'm trying to tell and where I am in the process.
Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011 3:13 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 103

My stories generally follow a fast pace. I owe that, in part, to listening to hockey play-by-play as I write. I'm not invested in the outcome (they're past games, not my team, etc.) so the actual words blend together. I don't hear them. Instead, the adrenaline, urgency and rhythm infuse me.
Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011 9:07 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 51

I create soundtracks for my different projects, though I tend to add to them organically, as I find new music. I use Pandora when I'm actually writing, and have about a dozen different stations set up with different moods. For the steampunk novella series I'm working on, it's been mostly The Black Keys, The White Stripes, The Raconteurs (pretty much anything with Jack White), The Strokes, Violent Femmes, as well as a couple of other odd songs that just fit thematically. I listen to these playlists mostly while brainstorming, or if I need to get in the mood to work on a particular project.

Otherwise, I listen to whatever Pandora station fits my mood. If I need something mellow, I have a 70s folk station and a couple of classical stations. If I need something upbeat I have some pop stations. And I have grunge and classic rock stations for when I need something a bit heavier. I also somehow managed to get a station that plays Lady Gaga and 80s hair bands almost exclusively, but I have yet to figure out what project to work on while listening to that one...
Posted: Saturday, March 19, 2011 1:09 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

I put my iTunes on shuffle and take off writing. I know the music on my iTunes so well that the words don't distract me. I create soundtracks in list for for my books, but those are more the soundtracks that would fit the story if it were a movie. There's one exception: my book "When the Star Fell" was a challenge. I created a playlist of battle anthems for the final confrontation/climax. It really helped me get through it and I think the scene is perhaps stronger for it.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Saturday, March 19, 2011 4:10 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

I'm with Steph and Marcie. I put on music that's familiar enough that I can tune out the words, but that has the emotional content I'm going for.

Of course, I'll *also* have a few songs for each character, in case I'm having problems getting into their head.

Worst of all are the times when a song inspires a character or story, because people look at me *really* funny when I tell them what inspired what.
Posted: Monday, March 21, 2011 7:20 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 227

I *love* writing to music! I can't write at all when it's silent. Every novel and novella I have has a theme song (just found the one for my WIP, and I'm nearly 30k into it already). When I'm particularly stuck, I put the theme song on repeat and open Write or Die to sprint. If the words and story are flowing well, I have a full playlist for each story, which includes the theme song. In each case, I've managed to find a song that has both the sound (beat, feeling, tone) and the lyrics to make it perfect for the story--hence why this last one took me a while. *grin*
Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2011 9:29 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

I'm just the opposite of most of you. I have to write in total silence, which is why I do most of my writing at night. Even the sound of traffic or people passing by on the walkway below is a distraction.

I'd like to be able to work more during the day, so I won't be on a wonky reverse schedule. Earplugs, maybe?
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2011 10:16 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

I have to write in what equates to Grand Central Station so music is a must. My hooded sweatshirts are wired with earbuds so I plug in my ipod and try to drown out the stampeding young children.

Like Ellie and Danielle I usually write to music that is stripped of vocals. If certain songs strike a certain mood that I want to capture I'll grab piano tribute version of it.

The music is radically different depending on what I am writing. With my Salem book I try to fill a playlist full of songs I know the High School set are listening to currently since my MC is a teen. Not Beiber though, there is not enough money in the world to get me to buy that.
Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2011 10:55 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

"Not Beiber though, there is not enough money in the world to get me to buy that."

You RAWKED the thread.

A novelist friend just posted the Rebecca Black YouTube video. It's astoundingly terrible. Like being force fed one Twinkie after another.
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2011 8:56 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

Thanks LisaMarie

A writer friend of mine had to link me that video on twitter the other night because I had no clue about Rebecca Black or her song. It was a mastery of autotune...*shudder*
Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2011 11:52 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

The only thing society can possibly do to combat the Rebecca Black inanity is enjoy the memes, parodies and pranksters:


(What "Friday" would sound like if sung by Bob Dylan -- hysterical!)
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Monday, March 28, 2011 12:52 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

I'll check it out in the morning, I don't want that song stuck in my head right before bed. No nightmares for me tonight, thank you.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 8:17 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

@Lisa - oddly, that's why I need music to write - it's white noise to overwhelm the *meaningful* noise that would otherwise distract me.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 7:24 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

robert, I have to do that if I'm studying, or reading non fiction, for the same reason. When writing though, i tend to try and aim for zoning out and going into a half dream state, and music interferes with that.
Molly McGee
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 8:26 PM
Joined: 4/1/2011
Posts: 4

I'm not a fan of silence, ever, so I have to listen to music when I write. Like a few others, I tend to stick to songs I know or else I'll get distracted by lyrics. Rather than creating a playlist for the entire story, I'll create one for each character - it really helps when I need to write from a certain perspective.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, April 4, 2011 9:37 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

Molly, now that trick i like! I have a tendency when I go out to Larp (live action role play. Yes, I'm a dirty dirty gamer geek) I tend to listen to music that my character would listen to for a few hours before heading to game. Puts you in the right headspace.
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Monday, June 25, 2012 11:47 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

Bumping this up for new members to see!

Nicki Hill
Posted: Monday, June 25, 2012 9:29 PM
Joined: 4/22/2012
Posts: 175

I am definitely inspired by music.  I ended up creating an 11-track playlist for Strains by the time I finished the first draft - each track speaks to a different scene/section of the story.  The emotional touchstone of the story was "That Day" by Tokio Hotel - I think of it as Trev's song - and the last chapter and epilogue were written under the influence of "Thank the Watchmaker" by And Then There Were None. 

Being a big fan of Florence + the Machine, rather like the original poster, my current new project calls as its emotional hook "No Lights, No Lights."  I heard it on one of my Pandora stations the other day, and had to immediately copy down the lyrics into my "Inspirations" document (which will probably end up becoming my new playlist) and then commence playing the song over and over again on YouTube until I finally broke down and bought the whole Ceremonials CD today.  It has since been joined by "I Feel It All" by Feist (also off that same Pandora station).

For brainstorming and rough outlining, music with lyrics is helpful because it gives me emotional background, but once I get into actual writing, my mood dictates whether I listen to music at all each day.  If I hit a snag, the music comes on.  Otherwise, if I'm on a writing jag, I generally need quiet so my words can flow and so the scene isn't hijacked by external emotional stimuli (although if I have a perfect song for a scene I'm writing, I'll play it on repeat to keep the mood and energy up).

Angela Martello
Posted: Monday, June 25, 2012 11:01 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

Depends. Sometimes I listen to music; sometimes I relish in just how quiet my urban home can actually be (except for when the backyard is a symphony of birdsong).

When I'm listening to music, it can be a variety of things - but normally something I can't sing along with (then I get too into the music!). The stuff I listen to includes the soundtracks to The Lord of the Rings movies and The Tudors television show, Enya, some Bach or Mozart, medieval music (especially anything written by Hildegard of Bingen), or Native American flute music.

Alexandria Brim
Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 5:25 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 353

I generally listen to music while writing as well. It's usually my iTunes library on random, so I have a mish-mosh of music. Celtic Thunder, Broadway shows, pop, rock, etc.

And Disney. I have a lot of Disney music.

Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 5:25 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

I'm also a Pandora gal and prefer to be introduced to new stuff rather than have the same songs loop again and again. When I do any type of arduous writing activity, I like to listen to Erykah Badu, Sade or Nouvelle Vague. The honeyed, jazzy tunes make me relax and feel like I can write -- I can do it!
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 9:04 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Classical music mostly, and nearly all instrumental/orchestral (some massive choral works if I haven't sung them myself--if I have, I find myself trying to remember my part, singing along and concentrating on what comes next in the muric, not the writing..)   The variable lengths and many moods of classical make it possible to both match and "drive" moods and tones in the story.   Some scenes need "sprightly" music; some need rollicking, some need ominous.   I also have folk music from around the world, and anything that seems to work, I keep around.  Most folk music doesn't hold a mood long enough for a writing session, but I replay it.

Characters may have their own music (in one pair of books, Brahms' German Requiem and Zamfir's piece--can't think of the formal name--for panpipes and orchestra  exactly expressed the difference between the two main characters.   I heard the Zamfir on a radio one night driving back from the city, and called the radio the next morning to find out what it was and get a copy--I knew it was what I needed to stay in that POV.)

Sneaky Burrito
Posted: Saturday, August 4, 2012 9:33 AM
Joined: 5/28/2012
Posts: 43

Absolutely no noise or music at all for me, whether writing or revising.  (Unless you count my finches and parakeets in the other room, but that doesn't really have a tune.)  But then, a large part of my music collection is loud and and sometimes political and often angry and the lyrics are therefore very distracting (Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana, Rancid, Sex Pistols, Black Flag, etc.).

The smaller part of my music collection is kirtan (Hindu or Sikh devotional music, with lots of repeated mantras that I tend to want to sing along to) and that's distracting in a different way.

Side note: I wonder what it says about me that those are the two types of music I listen to?

I can't read with any type of music going, either, instrumental or otherwise.  So it's not particularly surprising that I want quiet for writing, as well.

Jenn & Sean Collier
Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2013 8:37 AM
Joined: 6/4/2013
Posts: 35

Hi Michael, I'm with you on listening to music during my writing times to help me feel the right flow of the story and invoke the correct mood and emotional anchors.

Standard music of Soundtracks, I a little of both. I'll group pieces that feel right for the story I'm writing and I'll group pieces from the as artist that Inspire me to write. 

Glad to see that I am not alone in the world.

Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2013 6:48 PM
Joined: 11/7/2013
Posts: 1

I've been working on a novel set in Amsterdam. I tuned into a Dutch radio station online through iTunes, and set it on low volume. Hearing Dutch (which I speak haltingly, but not fluently) has helped me get into the mentsl space of being in Holland. Weird, but effective. Most Dutch radio stations play music in both English and Dutch, so that mixes it up a bit.
Margaret Melchior
Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 11:09 AM
Joined: 1/7/2014
Posts: 8

I listen to Soundtracks when I write, and mostly the work of Bear McCreary - Battlestar Galactica works best for me. Interestingly, it works very well for my fantasy setting, even though the music was written for a scifi series.Words distract me, so I only listen to music with no lyrics.

I have several playlists, for each character or particular moods, entirely made up of McCreary Soundtracks, it gets me in the right mood to get to paper what I want to say.


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