Friday, March 30, 2012

Music to Write By

I've always written with music playing in the background. When I was a teen writing at my desk in the basement, the music helped drown out the other members of the household. The same applied when I was trying to write while in college in my dorm room and later my room in the boarding house.

But the music was never just a form of 'white noise'. I usually choose music that would set the mood of the scene or the overall book. Soundtracks, instrumentals, New Age and electronic music are usually among my choices. For one important chase scene in an early book I remember playing "Classical Gas" over and over again.

That lead me to create the first of two rules I have for music listening/writing. Number one: Wear headphones - especially when in an area with other people who may not appreciate hearing your choice of music over and over and over again.

Rule number two: except for very rare scenes, no music with vocals is allowed. That's because if there is singing, I usually end up singing along and not writing. Which defeats the purpose of having music playing in the background.

The exceptions for that rule include Celtic music or the Lord of the Rings soundtracks or groups such as Clannad or Enya if I'm writing about elves or my wizards.

For science fiction writing I tend to use soundtracks from science fiction films and television shows or electronic music. I used to be able to find good electronic music in stores, but now I rely on visiting the Horizon Music booth at local science fiction conventions.

For fantasy writing I will use soundtracks from fantasy films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Waterhorse, How to Train Your Dragon, or Celtic or New Age music. The Soundscapes channel on my cable TV network often has interesting pieces that I can then track down via Amazon.

It's not that I can't find classical pieces that make me visualize magical forests and fantastic creatures or inspire me to write about spaceships sailing starry vistas. I can and have. But these are what have worked for me. Right now the CDs for the current writing projects include Transformers Prime Season One music, Sherlock: Music from Series Two, the Real Steel soundtrack and several assorted electronic music CDs.

What are your favorite choices of music to write or read by?


  1. Anything classical, especially the 1812 Overture when writing action scenes

  2. Well phooey. I hit the wrong key. Starting over. Whether I use music or not when I'm writing depends on the story. With one WIP I play Elvis. A lot of his songs go with the story. Another story I listen to The Limbo and The Twist. Yeah, I'm lost in the 60's. Sometimes, quiet suits my mood better, so it's just me and my characters.

    Great post, Kathy.

  3. I write to music, too, and while I use classical (actually, Baroque), soundtracks (love Hans Zimmer and John Barry) and ES Posthumus (check them out if you haven't already!), I also have "anchor" songs for each story and/or character. I eventually get around to burning the soundtrack for each manuscript I have and listen to them when I want to hang around with those characters a little longer.

  4. Great post. I sometimes listen to classical, but often I listen to country. It puts me in the mood for working on my "western" novels. I keep the sound low, because, like you, Kathryn, I might end up singing along. That seems to work for me.

    A soundtrack for your manuscript is a clever idea, Ophelia!

  5. Your music choices remind me of my own. I write fantasy (Adult, not YA...but fantasy nonetheless) and I too listen to lots of Celtic (Enya, Celtic Woman, Celtic Thunder, etc) lots of instrumentals (esp Tim Janis, Adiemus, etc) and I love various ethnic music...esp instrumentals (Native American, Australian aboriginal music, etc) Harder to find sometimes...but so evocative.
    Happy writing

  6. I do the same thing. I always create a movie soundtrack for each project I work on. When I listen to it while NOT writing it helps me to flesh out ideas and come up with new scenes.

  7. Commenting belatedly - thanks for directing me to this post! I do use music with lyrics -- every now and then a song I'm listening to sounds like it was written for a particular character or situation. It can tweak me into a direction I might not have thought of if the lyrics don't quite apply but could. But when I am actually in the process of writing, I do agree, lyrics become distracting. They interfere with the words I'm trying to compose, so I stick to instrumental. Classical, Celtic, World (if I don't understand the lyrics they can be interestingly provocative), Electronic, Techno, and soundtracks from games and videos -- whatever I come across that pricks my fancy.