Music to Write to

When I first began to write creatively in the mid 90’s, it took a lot for me to focus on the images, characters, and scenes in my mind, and how I was going to somehow translate them into the written—or typed—word. I would sit in my apartment in absolute silence. Music would totally blow my concentration, and the TV could only be on if the sound was nothing more than white noise.

At some point that all changed, and the quiet emphasized the isolation and desperation of a young writer struggling to find his voice. I needed a change in my writing environment and soon.

I needed writing music!

I knew that I couldn’t listen to anything too noisy, like heavy metal or rap. Nothing to rhythmic, such as pop or club music. It dawned on me one day while watching A Clockwork Orange that classical music may just be the right touch of sound without being distracting. And since I was fond of the music from that movie, I decided to invest in a little Ludwig van.

After all, classical music is supposed to help stimulate the mind, according to the Mozart Effect theory. I started with the 9 symphonies of Beethoven and was soon amazed by my improved ability to, not only focus, but to produce work of a higher quality. I became a Beethoven junkie—what writer wouldn’t after results like that?—and gobbled up other of his works like his piano and violin sonatas and concertos.

Over time, I found that I could write to other types of music too. Radiohead, my all-time favorite band, seems to use just as many complex structures as classical music and they quickly became my replacement for Beethoven when writing.

But now, I can write to almost any kind of music, even rock ‘n’ roll. It all depends on my mood and my writing topic. Sometimes certain pieces of music just seem to go with the subject matter I’m writing about, like a movie soundtrack. In fact, I can see how directors are inspired by certain songs, and how some music even inspires work that writers produce.

I remember reading an old interview with Chuck Palahniuk  where he explained how he listened to nothing but Nine Inch Nail’s Fixed while working on a horror novel. There was something in that album that struck Chuck as being perfect for the tone of his novel.

Music became such a big part of my writing process that I’d even created a soundtrack for my still-unfinished South Florida coming-of-age novel, Such A Dreamer. Actually, I must’ve created four or five different versions of that soundtrack over the years. I would listen to it in the car if I was going for a long drive and wanted to brainstorm about my novel. The various songs related to scenes or themes from Dreamer.

Considering my initial inability to write with music on, it’s a bit ironic that I’ve become so dependent on it to help me in my writing process. In fact, I’ve been listening to a wide range of singles while writing this post.

How important is music in your daily activities? Please leave a comment and share your own stories, including the type of music that inspires or drives you.

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11 Responses to Music to Write to

  1. I agree with you. Music is an important part of the writing process for me. I tried classical music and found that I got distracted by the highs and lows of the compositions. Then I realized I didn’t like music with words. I finally settled in on New Age music, a lot of violin, cello and piano. A match made in heaven. Thanks for your great blog.

  2. Jodi says:

    Jeff, I totally agree with you….setting the “stage” really helps in the creative writing process!

    My day begins before the sun rises. I turn on my desk lamp, light candles and I also have to have some Nag Champa incense burning. I turn on either classical or new age music and it truly helps me to “relax and release” the flow of creativity.

    Great article!

  3. Seems like every novel I write “requires” a different theme song inside my head and my earphones. Nothing with words, though: I supply them.


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  5. I write in quiet, never considered music might enhance the process, I’m going to try Mozart, thanks.

  6. NL Quatrano says:

    I too have to have music, but it works more as a filter for me.Seems to calm the calamitous chatter in my brain so I can get the ideas captured clearly. Music varies from Celtic ballads to classical and jazz. Do find I can’t add songs with lyrics to the mix of chatter, though. Find myself singing along and not writing much of value. LOL. Just can’t seem to multitask with all those folks running around in my brain doing everything from discovering clues to blowing up trucks. Very cool observations!!

    • Jeff Swesky says:

      Thanks for sharing, Nancy!! It does seem like instrumental music (especially classical and new age) is the popular choice to write to for most people. I certainly understand not wanting to add additional chaos in your brain by listening to music with lyrics….but for me, sometimes I welcome the extra chaos when I’m writing my dark, subversive fiction. So music with lyrics sometimes works for me…and maybe even helps to spark new ideas! 🙂

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