Music and Story


I am not someone who can handle complete silence. After a few minutes, I start hearing every creak of the house, every bird outside, and I lose every bit of concentration I might have had. I’ve always been this way. When I was a kid, I could study far more effectively if the television or radio was on (which drove my parents crazy.) I need sound to help me focus.

Years ago, I decided to try writing a novel. I knew what I wanted to write about. I had a general idea of how the story should go. I sat in front of the computer in a quiet room, my hands resting on the keyboard. I got a few sentences out, but the going was abysmally slow. I decided to put in a CD to help me work. Since the main character of my book was a classical guitarist, I listened to Andres Segovia’s Collection Volume One, An All Bach Program. (I love Bach.) As if by magic, when the music started playing, the words started flowing. I remember stopping around 1 in the morning, with fifteen pages done and the most extraordinary feeling of accomplishment. By the time I started working on Mad Kestrel, I had learned how to burn my own CDs, and I made myself a soundtrack with songs by lots of different artists: the Pyrates Royale, Bjork, The Jolly Rogers, Blackmore’s Night, Loreena McKennit and Sarah McLachlan. These days I have an iPod, so making my own playlist is as simple as clicking the mouse. I created a playlist for the New Shiny just the other day. Want to see? You’re welcome to try guessing what the story’s about on the basis of the list, but I won’t tell you if you’re right. 😉

So what are you listening to while you’re working?


12 comments to Music and Story

  • Deb Smythe

    I can’t listen to music when I’m writing, but I do listen when I’m formulating. I’ll get on the exercise device of choice, turn the music on low and slip into my fantasy world. The music has to fade into background. I want to feel the beat and the drive of the music, but I keep the volume low so that the lyrics don’t register in my brain.

  • Strangely, I’ve found that background instrumentals helps at times. While writing my current WIP I was listening to Anime soundtracks, specifically the Robotech soundtrack and the Mobile Suit Gundam 00 soundtrack, for those who know anime. I created a playlist with combat music from those shows and played that whenever I was writing combat and it just made the words pour like quicksilver and the fingers fly.

    When I switch back to an older project, Phoenix Rising, I’ll likely listen to Midnight Syndicate or maybe the music from the movie Push, or a combination of both. Midnight Syndicate does some pretty good dark mood music, which fits dark urban fantasy pretty well, as well as vampire or other supernatural tales.

    I’ve found that I can’t listen to background music if it’s got lyrics. I tend to focus too much on the lyrics…I like to sing, and so I end up listening to the lyrics and it distracts me from the writing.

  • I stick to classical when I’m writing. A lot of John Williams soundtracks. Some Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner. Also, on rarer occassions: Kitaro or George Winston.

    But my absolute favorite writing music, especially when writing my antagonists, is music from Wagner, his Ring Cycle in particular.

  • Misty, it’s so good to find someone else who can be driven nuts by every tick and creak in the house. Snoring guests in the middle of the night are also loads of fun.

    I’ve gone through cycles of always listening to music, assembling playlists, etc when I write, and then going for absolutely silence. Eventually though, my mind will wander. Lately I’ve rediscovered the value of music in the background when I work and I always have my earbuds in when I sit down to write. I can’t have it just playing on speakers though, or it’s a localized noise and I focus on the location. I need it right in my head, and I don’t have a good enough sound system to have it all around me. Back in the day, I made a playlist for my ms and listened to it constantly for the first while. Some Blackmore’s Night, Loreena McKennitt, etc on there as well.

    For other noises, I find I cannot do tv, but I don’t mind the hum of conversation in a restaurant or coffee shop. When it’s quiet though, and it’s just me writing and some other group at a table whose conversation I can clearly hear, that doesn’t work. I need it to sort of drown itself out. The half-attentive brain seems to work best, so I’m not focusing on the noises and not harping on the exact phrasing of what I’m writing at the moment. Is that how your playlists work for you, or do you completely focus on the music/writing to the exclusion of the other?

  • Misty,
    I love silence. I adore it.
    I don’t listen to music when I write, except for special scenes, scenes of great pain or emotional torture or spiritual intensity. And then I love music. For Jane Yellowrock, I listened to a *lot* of AmIn music. Right now I am listening to Native Flute Ensemble playing Gathering of Shamen. It has such pathos…

  • I listen to Progressive rock. I find the bigger the playlist is, the words flow; at the moment, I’m redoing it for the new book. It is a pain to change music. I use the playlist until I’m burned out on it.

  • I can’t listen to music while I write. It slows me down by about a hundred percent.

  • It depends on what I need. If I am feeling mentally sluggish, then I listen to songs that make my mind perk up like “Carmina Burana”, Bach, Jimi Hendricks, or the Doors. When I need to slow myself down, I listen to Country or Classic Rock.

  • Hayley asked Is that how your playlists work for you, or do you completely focus on the music/writing to the exclusion of the other?

    My playlists are made up of songs that, on their own, remind me of the story and/or characters. So when they play together, they create for me an ambient space in which I can completely concentrate. I don’t even register the lyrics if I’m writing. They just flow by, no different from any other instrument.

    Mark, I am SUCH a fan of Hendrix! He’s never turned up in my playlists yet, but who knows… 😀

  • Glad to know I’m not alone in needing music to write. I love writing to epic movie soundtracks. Loreena McKennitt is my all purpose standby. If I can’t find anything else to set the mood for my work, she can do it! I sometimes just put it on Pandora Radio and hit the Kate Rusby or Loreena McKennitt station and let it ride.


  • Emily Leverett

    I can write to music, but I often don’t. I do get inspiration from music, though. A phrase will strike me in a song and I’ll think “ooh, Character X would love this song…” or it will make me think of a setting or a moment or something.

  • Cindal Cooley

    I too have to have some kinds of music going. My friends and family now know what my ‘story songs’ are. I use the songs to get back into a certain mind-frame, especially when I might have been stalling for a little while, or to help me really see a certain character, feel his/her emotions. The more music that speaks to me, the easier the flow of writing.