Music and writing

I find it very difficult to write in a quiet room, I end up getting distracted by a million thoughts bouncing around in my head. I just lose focus too easily without some kind of buffer. I find that I do my best writing listening to music, songs that I know intimately. Music muffles the noise in my head, but it doesn’t distract me from what I’m creating.

I know the music so well, every drum beat, every guitar chord, every word to every song, it’s all just a part of me by now. Kurt Cobain, Elliot Smith, Aimee Mann, three amazing writers, their lyrics are so dark and unflinching. Their ideas feed my ideas, their darkness makes me feel less lonely in mine. For whatever reason I feel safe, and I can write.

Does music do anything for you?

22 comments on “Music and writing

  1. Cat Sparks says:

    I’m the absolute opposite. I can’t concentrate on writing if there’s music playing. Way too distracting.

  2. Jazz music.

    I get accused of “trying to be Beat” because I like to listen to jazz when I write, but long before I read Kerouac, jazz was the music that got my mind and creativity flowing. For one thing, there are no words to distract me (most of the time), and for another thing, I just love jazz. It moves and stimulates the neurons, man!

  3. I’ve always found it easiest to write to purely instrumental music. Music with a particular emphasis on wordplay and with the voice used more rhythmically than as a vehicle for melody really interferes with the words I’m trying to piece together in my mind, although it’s of the kinds of music that I most enjoy listening to the rest of the time. I can’t write a story of my own while simultaneously listening to someone tell me a story.

  4. I used to require complete silence to write, which often led to not finding the time (I have three small children). Then I wrote a story where Jazz featured prominently – while I was writing it, I had Sonny Rollins on the whole time and found it made writing somehow easier. Now I listen to music most of the time during a first draft (but never for revisions).

    Having music you know well works I think because your brain doesn’t do any pattern recognition. I can’t write with music I’ve never heard before, unless it’s instrumental, or the lyrics are in a language I don’t speak. My current writing playlist includes plenty of Jazz, some instrumental stuff from Steve Nieve & Ryuchi Sakamoto, a couple of albums by The National and my latest discovery – the soundtracks of A R Rahman.

  5. Andy says:

    Bjork or Kate bush for half an hour or so before I start writing gets my imagination working. I need absolute quiet when I am writing anything that requires my imagination but, if I am writing something factual, then I tend to write better to instumental, rocky type music.

  6. Grant: Rahman’s ‘Mumbai Theme’ is lovely, a great one to write to.

  7. Alex: I haven’t heard that yet. I’ve got ‘Delhi 6’ and ‘Ghajini’ so far. Now I have to wait until my emusic downloads kick in again next month.

  8. KJ Bishop says:

    I can’t write to vocal music at all. Purely instrumental, ambient music seems best at taking my mind into an alternative space. Harold Budd’s “Lovely Thunder” and “The Room” are my favourite albums for this purpose. Andreas Vollenweider’s “Book of Roses” is another. I can listen to them on constant play without getting bored. It’s a long time since I wrote a battle scene, but when I was writing them I’d put on the soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian. If I’m trying to figure out anything plotty, ugh, then I need dead silence.

  9. This is interesting. See, if I don’t have lyrics, I get distracted. I think part of it is that I think so much faster than I can type, the act of typing gives my mind time to wander in fifty directions. Music keeps the idle parts of my brain occupied.

  10. Seth Merlo says:

    I used to have to have my music up very loud to work. Annoyed the hell outta my parents while I was still living at home, especially as it was very fast, very aggressive hardcore techno. Now, I prefer to write with some very minimal/ambient stuff playing and absolutely nothing if I’m trying to read. It also has to be something I’m not super-familiar with either, otherwise I get distracted by the familiar notes and find myself locking in to that rather than what I’m supposed to be doing.

  11. I’m with you, Michael. I want rock. I want it loud. And I write best when it’s cranked. I was working on edits for a script the other night — headphones on, Sevendust blasting — and had a few beers in me, cause that’s the only way I can stomach editing, and the song Enemy queued up on my playlist. Then: Bam (you know, like Emeril)! A concept for a vignette hit me fully formed.

    I put the song on repeat and wrote most of the story in twenty minutes.

    I love when that happens.

    Not only do I prefer writing to music, but music is usually an essential part of my work — I’ve hardly written anything that doesn’t feature a snatch of lyrics, or a nod to a band. One of the first short stories I ever wrote was nothing more than a “translation” of a Sunny Day Real Estate song.

  12. Michael: I’m a huge Nirvana fan. What’s your favorite album? Mine’s Bleach. Though In Utero is good too. My favorite song from their Sub Pop days is either Negative Creep or Big Cheese. It’s a tie. Haha!

  13. Ennis: Man, it’s hard to pick a favorite album. Lately, I really like Incesticide, but everything’s amazing. I have tattoos from the songs, Downer, Old Age and Sappy.

  14. I’m gonna have to admit to cliche and say I liked ‘Nevermind’ the best! I’m also going to say something completely sacrilegious: I was always more of a ‘Foo Fighters’ guy. Haven’t really listened to anything past their second album though…

  15. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I can’t write without music, most of the time. Something I know well enough that the lyrics don’t get in the way.

  16. Jeff: I think that’s the key, the music has to be familiar.

  17. Tim Lebbon says:

    Yeah, what Jeff said … I’ve pretty much always got music on, but never something new. I have to know it so that the lyrics blend in as part of the music, as opposed to something new where I’ll be listening to the lyrics and concentrating hard on them.

    I also adjust music according to what I’m working on. My latest fantasy novel seems to suit Fields of the Nephilim very well. Almost always rock of some kind, anything ranging from Metallica to Flogging Molly. I also just wrote a story listening to a Nick Cave song on a loop, and that seemed to work really well.

  18. Melissa says:

    KJ Bishop: I love listening to Harold Budd while I write. A dear friend introduced me to him by way of the following quote:

    “[H]is way of composing was to write a piece of music, then take out all the notes you didn’t like!” ~Brian Eno, speaking of Harold Budd, quoted in Stylus Magazine.

    I had to listen to the music born of that method. (Turns out it works pretty well for fiction, too. Finish the damn thing, then fix it.)

  19. sinema says:

    At first I thought you told Google to call the library, and it did, and that blew my mind.

    Then I realized that you actually called the library, and my mind became unblown.
    I’ll get back to work…

    If you ask my opinion about this topic I really like. Thank you for sharing your friends. Hope to see you another day.

  20. Clay says:

    Hey there I am so thrilled I found your site, I really
    found you by error, while I was researching on Google
    for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just
    like to say kudos for a incredible post and a all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t
    have time to browse it all at the moment but I have saved it and
    also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read more,
    Please do keep up the fantastic job.

Comments are closed.