What music is the best for productive writing? Well, it depends on what you are looking for that day. Some people can write with the same type of music on in the background every day, and some prefer to have no music at all.
I am unfortunately always most productive when I am surrounded by silence, like a vacuum- sealed library study room, but I love music, and try to incorporate it into my day whenever possible.
I usually listen to music when I write for at least half the day, and if I am in a loud coffee shop, I find headphone music incredibly useful for drowning out distracting conversations of patrons around me. As you may know by now, I do a “writing song of the day” on the Looking for Pemberley Facebook page. These songs often range from slow and gentle folk or blues, to fast-paced and energetic Cumbia music. Since I am looking for music that puts me in a certain mindset, I usually pay more attention to rhythm and tone than I do to the lyrics when choosing these songs every day.
I have pretty eclectic music tastes, and like almost all types of music (with the exception of some scream0 and country music). Syncopated and complex beats are really interesting for me, since I was a percussionist back in the day. However, they are often very distracting for me and require my full attention, so I don’t like to listen to them when I am writing, even though I love them.
If it is raining outside, I will either try to pick a song that reflects the somber mood of the weather, or something more energetic to lighten my own mood and make writing easier.
Usually, I will listen to my Pandora stations or use another online streaming platform, and the song that first grabs me and gets me in the writing groove will be the one I share with you. Some days, I post the writing song of the day later in the day, because it takes that long for me to hear a song that puts me in the “write” state of mind.
I often listen to other music when driving (in the days when I had a car), cooking, or dancing than I do when I am writing. Writing music for me is also very different than editing music. In fact, when I am editing, I prefer complete stillness around me or music without lyrics. Although I can write faster without music, I enjoy adding it to the mix and seeing how it affects the finished product.
There are two ways that I combine music and writing.
- Listening to Music while I write or type. When I am listening to music, I am interacting with it, even when I write. Songs with a steady beat but kind of subtle lyrics really help me too. I can type to the beat of a song, or listen to music while I am writing that has presents the tone as the one I am trying to convey: energetic, melodramatic, alternative, edgy, angry, macabre, joyful, exploratory, etc. in very complex ways. Music is the best way to get me feeling a specific way. A great example of this is the song:
- Reacting to a song after the fact is the other most frequent way I use music for my writing. Some songs do really have amazing lyrics, or fascinating tones (especially in classical music) that can conjure up dramatic stories in my head. When I was in middle school, a friend and I used to make up sagas and adventures that would be set to the songs we were playing, and it kind of became a habit. One example of this is the song:
If there are lyrics, I think about what type of people or places they are referencing and it can spark a million subsequent thoughts. This is one of the reasons that sometimes I just can’t listen to songs with words or catchy refrains when I am writing- I end up Google searching lyrics and trying to learn them for my next Karaoke adventure.
Good writing songs, for me, need to fulfill one of these two roles- as mood/energy music, or as story inspiration in a way I can write and interact with, either during or before the writing process.
What makes a good writing song, in your opinion?