Music to Write by

by Steve Laube

Latino student wears earphone using a laptop while sitting on a sofa

Some write in silence. Some write with music in the background. Some write with music playing through their headphones (or earbuds).

I’m curious as to what you, our readers, listen to while writing. Or if you write in silence. In the comments below let us know your favorites. Maybe we can discover some new musical inspiration together.

I read somewhere that Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, credits the group Muse as her inspirational background music. She even provides a playlist on her web site of the songs she listened to while writing Eclipse. (Here is that playlist.)

Years ago Ted Dekker mentioned that he listened to hard rock while writing his intense thrillers.

When it comes to music I am wildly eclectic. Most of the time my work day is silent. It can be a challenge to find the mute button when the phone rings. But when I feel the need for some background music to cover the hum of the fluorescent lighting I go in multiple directions.

1) A classical Baroque station on Pandora radio. I could listen to Bach and Vivaldi all day.

2) Solo piano music. I have a playlist of 90 albums that would play continuously for 26 hours without repeating a song. Artists like George Winston, Liz Story, Kurt Kaiser, and Jon Schmidt.

3) A contemplative contemporary artist playlist. The playlist is entitled “Thoughtful Music.” It includes artists like Vienna Teng, Melody Gardot, A Fine Frenzy, Charlotte Martin, Natalie Cole, Imogen Heap, Natalie Merchant, and Sara Groves.

4) Other days the mood trends toward acapella music with artists like Glad, Rescue, The Real Group, Take 6, Manhattan Transfer, and The New York Voices.

But if I need to let off some mental steam the playlist gets a little louder. This one includes artists like Flyleaf, Red, Fireflight, Skillet, Hoobastank, Linkin Park, Muse, etc. Or classic rock from Boston, Queen, Three Dog Night, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, etc.

What do you play when the Creative Mood is in full swing?

49 Responses to Music to Write by

  1. Susie Finkbeiner April 14, 2014 at 5:15 am #

    I listen to Claude Debussy when I write. Something about the roiling music keeps my fingers on the move. If I need something a little more upbeat, I’ll go for movie soundtracks from Last of the Mohicans and the newer True Grit. I love music. Generally, though, I need to write to music without lyrics, otherwise I’ll end up singing along in the middle of Starbucks.

    • Jenny Leo April 14, 2014 at 7:36 am #

      Susie, I love, love, love Debussy. Put him on our playlist for our lakeside writing retreat. It’s gonna happen!

  2. Henry McLaughlin April 14, 2014 at 5:23 am #

    I’m like you, Steve, with an eclectic mix. I really like to ability to shuffle among different types of music on Pandora. My favorites are Baroque (really like the Academy of St, Martin in the Field), Celtic music, and smooth jazz. Every so often I’ll switch to folk music (Kingston Trio, etc) or rock (Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, Three Dog Night, Creedence among others).

  3. Jessica Edgerton April 14, 2014 at 5:25 am #

    This is such a great question! I almost always have music on while writing, and my computer has a dozen playlists for different writing moods. I’ll frequently put a specific song on repeat when working on an intense scene; having the power or despair or hope or anger of the song helps me to better express the emotions of my characters. My favorites while writing are Sufjan Stevens, The National, Luxury, MUTEMATH, Radiohead, Sunny Day Real Estate, Iron and Wine, Over the Rhine, Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons, Future of Forestry, and This Beautiful Mess. When I need instrumental, I tend to listen Dario Marianelli. (The only time I choose silence is when I’m trying to do really detailed, technical editing.)

  4. Judith Robl April 14, 2014 at 5:38 am #

    For me, silence is the thing. I love music of many genres, but I’m not a good multi-tasker. I simply must focus on the scene in my head and not be distracted by the melodies and harmonies emanating from outside.

  5. Sara Baysinger April 14, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    I’m pretty eclectic, too. Whatever my favorite songs are at the time go into my playlist for the book I’m writing, and they’re usually anything from soundtrack music to the latest pop hits. But one album that never gets old is the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack. That music is beautiful and so inspirational. When I’m revising I don’t listen to music because I want to see the story the way the reader might, without any musical influence playing on my emotions.

  6. Connie Almony April 14, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    I have very eclectic tastes, but when I am writing Christian Contemporary Fiction I MUST listen to Christian Contemporary Music. I have a band-muse for each manuscript. My first is my Third Day manuscript … and it shows in the story about a musician. My second was heavily inspired by Tenth Avenue North. My indie-pub novella used Needtobreathe. The David Crowder Band is what I use to write my current manuscript. Each story seems to pick a band and I find it much harder to write without them.

  7. Debra L. Butterfield April 14, 2014 at 6:03 am #

    I use Pandora too, often on shuffle. I enjoy Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli, Celtic and Irish music, but mostly movie soundtracks. I’ll put in a certain style of music depending on the mood I’m working toward in my WIP. I have several playlists in my media library when I want something more specific than the random choices of Pandora.

  8. Amy Drown April 14, 2014 at 6:04 am #

    Throw in some bagpipe music, symphonic goth-rock, or Italian-Celtic fusion, and you’ll almost be as musically eclectic as me, Steve! :-) Music just isn’t background noise for when I write; it is actually my #1 most essential plotting tool! Every character has a theme song, ever scene has a soundtrack, every story has a love theme, etc. My entire writing career is owed to a song (something I actually just blogged about today! & every Monday from now on) and several of my stories have been completely inspired, start to finish, by a single song or artist or album. If you like solo piano, you should definitely check out Whisperings Solo Piano Radio (free online streaming). Since music & writing is a regular feature of my own blog I won’t divulge too much here: but let me say, I have one manuscript with a soundtrack that includes classical bagpipe music (piobaireachd), the Rolling Stones, Beethoven, the Butthole Surfers, and Pavarotti. :-)

  9. Kelly Bridgewater April 14, 2014 at 6:09 am #

    I’m like you Steve. I listen to a variety of music when I’m writing. To start, when I’m planning my scene using the five senses before I actually compose, I listen to praise and worship music. Then when I write, I listen to metal music: Close Your Eyes, Metallica, Linkin Park, Wolves at the Gate, House of Hereos, etc. I frequently listen to Radiou, a Christian alternative station from Columbus, Ohio (radiou.com). It helps me create as I nod along as I write.

  10. Ronie April 14, 2014 at 6:10 am #

    The mood of my muse depends on the story I’m writing, and that dictates the music. For example, the military suspense novel I just finished (HAWK) required a playlist comprised of albums from the rock/grunge bands 12 Stones and Nine Lashes. But my fantasy series requires the dramatic/thematic score of “Archangel” by Two Steps From Hell.

    When I wrote the Asian elements in Firethorn, I listened to Traditional Chinese music.

  11. Nicole L Rivera April 14, 2014 at 6:32 am #

    The Harry Potter film score. Narnia film score. Hillsong. Taylor Swift. It depends on what I am writing. Usually I listen to film scores.

  12. Diana Lesire Brandmeyer April 14, 2014 at 6:39 am #

    If I write with music I connect to http://www.focusatwill.com They offer different types of music that helps you focus, create, brainstorm and none of it is a ‘real’ song. That’s good because I don’t drift off singing and thinking about what the song writer wants to convey.

    The other bonus is I can use it 60 min. a day for free. That’s an hour of real writing for me.

    • Susan Flemming April 14, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

      Thanks for mentioning this Diana. This is the first I’ve read of that site and I will definitely be checking it out.

  13. Angela Breidenbach April 14, 2014 at 6:50 am #

    I often do silence or turn on my TV to a music station called The Message. The TV is down in the living room and I’m up a flight in my office. That way lyrics don’t take my character’s words away but it feels like I have someone in the house with me :)

  14. Deb Elkink April 14, 2014 at 6:58 am #

    Silence is golden! If there’s almost any sound near me (music, people speaking, the fridge buzzing), I get so distracted I can no longer hear the story in my head and heart. Maybe I have ADHD. One exception is the pure sound of nature; that is, I live out in the boonies of Alberta and open my windows wide to the prairie wind, the “I’m back!” call of Canadian Geese returning home, the rushing of the creek as spring thaws the snows in the hills. That’s just pure inspiration!

  15. Richard Mabry April 14, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    I like silence for writing or editing. However, when there’s a grandchild in the next room watching TV I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and turn on Pandora with The Mamas and The Papas, The Band, even The Beatles (so sue me, I like old stuff).

  16. Sherry Carter April 14, 2014 at 7:08 am #

    I’ve never been able to concentrate in silence but I’m too easily distracted by songs with lyrics. I find myself singing along – and doing it badly. :(
    I write Bible studies so I want to keep my focus on the Lord. My favorite is instrumental hymns. I have some CDs that are piano only and some that are orchestras. They’re so calming and they keep the words flowing

  17. Jenny Leo April 14, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    Another Pandora girl here. I create soundtracks that suit my historical fiction time period (early 20th century, from ragtime to Cole Porter). When I do other writing, like magazine articles or client projects, I choose classical, esp. piano. I like a program called Focus at Will, which claims to calibrate the music to your brain waves, or some such. Don’t know much about the science, but I like the music and it does help me concentrate.

  18. Gail Gaymer Martin April 14, 2014 at 7:44 am #

    I often enjoy music while writing — background music — but nothing with words or I sing along. Ever try to be creative while singing along? I occasionally use Pandora but I have a CD player nearby and play music such as: Secret Garden, Massage, Songs for a Quiet Night, Mystic Irish Lakes, Seascapes, and music from the the southwest: Longing, Changes (flutes and vibraphone)–soft calming. For suspense scenes, movie soundtracks work.

  19. Elizabeth Goddard April 14, 2014 at 8:00 am #

    Great post, Steve! I often listen to movie soundtracks to power me through certain books. I love the soundtrack from Inception and Enders Game for that purpose. I’ve found that new scenes will come to mind through the music.

  20. Jeanne Takenaka April 14, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    You ARE quite eclectic, Steve. I must be pretty limited in my musical repertoire, because I haven’t heard of most of the groups/singers you mentioned. :) I LOVE Sara Groves, though!

    I tend to do best writing in silence. Most of the time. As a singer, if I hear lyrics, I want to sing along, or create a harmony. So, when I do listen to music, it’s usually instrumental. I love piano music.

    I do listen to music if I need help getting into a scene. In one book my character loves Cold Play, so I found a playlist on YouTube and listened to that while I wrote the scene. For another, highly emotional scene, I found some music (instrumental) that fit the mood and listened to it until I got the scene written.

    Music distracts me, but it can also enhance the mood or character personality I want to convey, so I do listen sometimes.

  21. Kimberly Johnson April 14, 2014 at 8:22 am #

    I need silence to write. I need to hear the voices in my head. :)
    Now, when I’m cleaning house I like music. I enjoy Mercy Me, Newsboys, Toby Mac, Francesca Battistelli plus several more.

  22. Rachel Leigh Smith April 14, 2014 at 9:10 am #

    I never wrote to music until I switched genres two years ago. I discovered by accident my SFR muse works better with music playing. I have a Pandora station built on Nickelback, 3 Doors Down, Breaking Benjamin, Evanescence, and 10 Years. If that station is playing I’m writing.

    Through that station I discovered a band called Within Temptation. They’re Dutch, and their genre is known as symphonic Goth. They’re AMAZING!!! My crit partner and I are in love with them.

  23. Rebecca Barlow Jordan April 14, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Steve, I love all kinds of music. But when writing (at my desktop) I enjoy the quiet. However, much of the time–like today, where winter has visited Texas again, I enjoy listening to an online music source a friend once introduced me to: http:/soaking.net. There’s a pop-up player on there with quiet music I enjoy. I also love to write by classical music or soft praise. When not writing, however, I enjoy louder praise, guitar or piano instrumental, movie themes, classics, etc.

  24. Christy Gill April 14, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    I listen to classical and piano music for when I need to focus and country when I need creative inspiration. Those song writers sure know how to make their words count!

  25. Yvonne Saxon April 14, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    A playlist full of “secret agent” music and smooth jazz on my mp3 player works when I’m plotting a mystery or spy/thriller. From James Bond movie soundtracks to Disney’s The Incredibles, it sets the mood for a “whodunit!” But absolute quiet is a must when I really need focus. I subscribed to EMUSIC

    • Yvonne Saxon April 14, 2014 at 10:52 am #

      (oops) for a while and found an impressive amount of older titles which were just right for my genre.

      • Yvonne Saxon April 14, 2014 at 10:54 am #

        *number* of titles, sighs the grammar nazi in my head.

  26. Cecelia Dowdy April 14, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Currently, I write with the TV on in the background. However, when I first started writing, I listened to classical music. Victoria’s Secret had a really nice classical music CD collection!

    A few years after I’d started writing, I went through a phase where I listened to a Christian radio station while writing.

  27. Gaylyn Williams April 14, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    I just published my 24th print book (I have lots more eBooks.) I like to write in total silence. I do most of my writing at a cabin on 200 acres surrounded by national forest. In a week or more, I may see one or two cars drive by in the distance!

  28. DIANA HARKNESS April 14, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    I write in silence, if possible. Music requires too much attention and is distracting. Simple music might be acceptable but classical is too complex and I must listen to it with no other distractions.

  29. Roz Morris @Roz_Morris April 14, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    Steve, you have blogged about one of my eternal fascinations. When I began my first novel under my real name, I set it in the world of classical music, and various pivotal pieces became backgrounds to keep me in the world.
    But I soon found as I continued, and became more immersed in the characters, that random pieces heard on the radio would suddenly illuminate a moment from my book, or hold it still so I could examine it. Gradually I built up a collection that represented the book in emotion and mood, and allowed me to keep it with me when I wasn’t at the desk. I called it my Undercover Soundtrack.
    When I launched the novel I thought I’d see if any other writers did this. That was nearly three years ago, and every week I’ve hosted a writer who shares the Undercover Soundtrack to a novel, a memoir or even a collection of poetry. These are intensely personal essays about creativity, about inspiration, and about the long hours a writer spends at work, crafting a piece they hope will speak to readers.
    In case you’re curious, here’s the Undercover Soundtrack to the novel that started it all for me – http://mymemoriesofafuturelife.com/2012/09/12/the-undercover-soundtrack-roz-morris/ If you have any clients who would like to post, send them my way!

  30. Afton Rorvik April 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    I love my Fernando Ortega Pandora station, can’t write without it.

  31. Lauren H Brandenburg April 14, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    Fun question! For some reason I go to “The Last of the Mohicans” soundtrack! It’s a nice distraction killer with no vocals for me to accidentally insert into dialogue. My inspire list jumps from All Sons & Daughters, to Mumford & Sons, and then over to Jamar Rogers, Josh Garrels and Plumb. There’s a local KY band called “Soft Like Fire” that nails one of my major themes in their lyrics – can’t help but to play that one quite a bit! Lots of fun comments on this one – thanks!

  32. Susan Flemming April 14, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    How interesting to read through everyone’s different responses. I often write in silence but the occasions when I want something to listen to while writing or if the words don’t seem to be flowing, in order to get them flowing, I put my headphones on and listen to one of two different CDs by Dr. Jeffery Thompson (Theta Meditation System or Awakened Mind System.)

  33. Suzan Robertson April 14, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    Ah, one of my favorite subjects. Music enriches my writing in so many ways.

    Here’s my long-winded response:

    I like to listen to music with lyrics before I sit down to write, and I’ve created my own playlists with songs that evoke emotion. My taste is wildly eclectic. Here’s just a few: Celine Dion singing in French, Florence and the Machine, Sara Groves, Sarah McLachlan, Van Morrison, Sara Niemietz, Christina Perri, One Republic, Fernando Ortega, Phil Collins, Rich Mullins.

    During my writing sessions, I listen to instrumental music. My favorite online music site: http://www.calmradio.com. I love this website’s music choices. On Calm Radio, I listen to smooth jazz, classical (love Baroque and Mozart) sometimes Celtic, sometimes piano or cello, or other solo instrument. I think Calm Radio is my favorite music website because most of their stuff is instrumental and there is an option to add nature sounds in the background. If you suffer from tinnitus, that’s an especially awesome feature. They also have world music (some have lyrics) like Bollywood, Celtic, Latin, Tibet, Native American, etc., Christian music and relaxation music, too. Even plain old white noise.

    I also like http://www.cinemix.us for movie soundtracks.

    I also like Pandora sometimes.

    My own instrumental playlists feature: Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Phillip Glass, Keiko Matsui, Joshua Bell, Daft Punk, Jean-Luc Ponty, Iona, Lindsey Stirling, and Leahy.

    I also have coffitivity playing in the background often. It simulates the sounds in a coffeehouse. Helps with concentration, believe it or not. http://coffitivity.com/

    Music helps put me in a writing mood, and the right instrumental music helps my focus, clarity, and creativity.

  34. Joy Hartshorn April 14, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    I listen to a rather eclectic range of music as well when I write. It usually consists of different film soundtracks. When I was working on my first novel (a sci-fi), I listened to a lot of Daft Punk, Tron Legacy soundtracks, Piano Guys, piano versions of songs from Kingdom Hearts, Dallas String Quartet, and more.

    I also cannot listen to songs with words while writing, or else I find myself singing along as well. :D

  35. Eric E. McClure April 14, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

    I wrote my first two books listening to only one Enya song on repeat. I’m still fascinated how I can jump right back into a scene as soon as I hit “play”.

  36. Narelle Atkins April 14, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    Steve, great post! I can write in silence or listening to music, whatever the situation dictates. My kids are currently on school holidays, which means I’m plugging in the headphones. I tend to alternate between 80′s music and contemporary Christian, depending on my mood.

  37. Elizabeth Liberty Lewis April 14, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    I can’t have lyrics in my writing music, ever. For that reason, I stick to instrumental music – soundtracks and trailer music, mostly because they so conveniently focused on one emotion.

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned Two Steps From Hell! They are my biggest writing resource. (Yes, I know the name is edgy, but they have the biggest variety and best quality of orchestral music I have ever, ever seen.) Their music, written for the movie trailer industry, has some of the most potent emotion I have ever heard expressed in a non-lyrical song. If you want to explore them (and I highly encourage it) my personal favorites are Black Blade, Breathe, Flying, A Hole in the Sun, Children From War, Undying Love, and Atlas. (Thomas Bergersen, half of the duo that makes up Two Steps From Hell, also has a brilliant solo album.)

    Besides TSFH, I listen heavily to Hans Zimmer, Ramin Djawadi, and James Newton Howard. I’m also beginning to discover Alexandre Desplat. And I love helping people find the right music to fit their stories and scenes. :D

  38. Amy Drown April 14, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    After a long and exhausting day at the ol’ day job, I wanted to come back and add one more reason why music is so essential to my writing process: it helps me stay in my story even when I can’t write. I sit in an ugly brown cubicle at a computer for 9 hours a day doing boring data entry-type work. Blessedly, I’m allowed to wear headphones while I’m at my desk. Having a playlist for my novel-in-progress that’s not just random mood music, but specific tracks linked to specific characters and scenes in my book, in sequential story order… it’s a great way for me to brainstorm and let all kinds of story problems and possibilities marinate on my mental back burner while I’m not actually able to spend time writing. Same goes for the playlist while I’m washing dishes or cleaning house — it’s multitasking!

  39. Nancy B. Kennedy April 15, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    Must have silence! No music, no nature sounds, no white noise. Last year, the house next to ours and one across the street were torn down to the studs and renovated. I was so nuts with all the compressors, generators, nail guns, saws, radios blaring and guys shouting that I’m certain the book I was writing is punctuated with long strings of Eeeeeeeeeee!

  40. Linda Truesdell April 15, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    I usually have Pandora playing Celtic or folk, bluegrass instrumentals or some Allison Krause. Other times I like Dixie Chicks, Eva Cassidy or the sound track from A River Runs Through It. Or it might be Westminster Cathedral or bagpipes.

  41. Katie Morford April 16, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    Generally, I keep a broad collection of soundtracks from my favorite composers (Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore, John Williams) on shuffle when I’m writing. Sometimes I’ll use a particular playlist (ex. “Contemplative” or “Action”) to fit a scene. Several characters in my work-in-progress have songs by Red and Skillet, so I listen to those when I need to get into their heads. Interesting question!

  42. Sondra Kraak April 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    If I’m not writing in bed next to my sleeping husband, I might listen to George Winston or Michael W. Smith’s instrumental albums (which are like movie soundtracks), but if it’s raining out, I’m in the mood for Strauss Waltz’s or Gershwin jazz. Silence is also good.

  43. Susan Mires April 24, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    As a former journalist used to writing in the buzz of a newsroom, a silent work environment is creepy. When I work on my historical novel, I’ve found bluegrass music (often hymns) sets the right tone. But I absolutely cannot listen to it any other time!

  44. Rylan July 23, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    I can’t listen to words with songs, but love to listen to music when I write. I love scores from movies, so I play music on pandora from movies. My favorites are anything from Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Carribean.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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