Should You Listen to Music while Writing?

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
We've discussed listening to music while writing in a couple of old threads, but they're closed, and we have lots of new members of the Colony.

A recent report from the British Psychological Society made me think about how what I listen to affects my concentration and creativity:

Should You Listen To Music While Doing Intellectual Work? It Depends On The Music, The Task, And Your Personality

I constantly have music of all kinds playing through earbuds into my noggin. As I type this, I'm enjoying Tan Dun's soundtrack to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I like a calm start to the day, but I'll move onto livelier tunes as I read my emails. I live at a very noisy location, on the flight path to Newquay airport, next to a car workshop and a petrol station, so knowing what sound is going to happen next in music is better than being startled by sudden beeps, bangs and engines revving.

I listen to rock, heavy metal, folk, rap, New Age, C & W, soundtracks and world music...vaguely choosing albums saved to my hard drive that suit the task in hand. Last night, I found five new literary agents to query this afternoon, so I may well use Metallica to get in the right frame of mind! :mad:

When editing a manuscript, I tend to choose something quieter, more contemplative and even intricate—such as Miles Davis or John Coltrane. The rhythm of music sometimes affects the pacing of my sentences, how they sound when read aloud. I found a CD in my local charity shop last week, by a 17th-century composer of lute music called Andrea Falconieri. I'd never heard of him, but it turned out his baroque music was ideal for composing a synopsis of my novel! :)

Do you listen to music while writing or editing?
@Paul Whybrow
I absolutely love this post of yours.
I'm currently listening to Pink - Try, Post Brit Awards watching this morning.
Yes, I do listen to music while I write, usually classical, opera or my fav Epic Film Scores, without words though.
I agree with @Susan , any lyrics can be distracting while I'm writing or thinking about writing. But I often listen to instrumental music, classical such as Vivaldi, Holst, Mozart, etc. V's Four Seasons is a particular favourite while I'm writing.
As for Pop or Rock, forget it. Too distracting, especially if it's a song I know well.
When young I always had the radio on- BBC Radio one that is, with Tony Blackburn, Alan Freeman and his poem of the day, yes bang in the middle of his afternoon pop program he read poems- he even read one of my poems too which thrilled me to bits because I thought my poems were too old fashioned for a teenage audience! It was called "Coffee Break"- but I'm meandering. What I'm trying to say is: when young one's brain is more elastic and can multi-task more than when you are a pensioner. Now, especially since I began to live in the country and the only sound is the twittering of birds, I find it near impossible to have music on while writing or reading. However, I still like music and it stimulates my brain and muscles when they tend to get lethargic.
It's now 21:04pm in the evening.
And, I'm listening to the band 'THE 1975' and their album 'A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.'
I had never heard of them before since this morning on The Brit Awards and to be fair their pretty good.
I've tried both. I'm sometimes a musician and my environment is rarely without music, but I find music can be distracting if I'm trying to be productive in my writing. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Hemingway never said "Write drunk, edit sober" but others have taken up the refrain (Write Drunk, Revise Sober – Quote Investigator) and writing drunk is a little like writing while whistling a happy tune or while watching YouTube on the other screen.

But writing is far more than just the 'words on paper' phase. Writing is all about the meditating, the digestion and reconstitution of ideas. When we're working on a piece of writing that takes more than a single sitting, we dedicate a part of our subconscious to the task, and for me it is this part that benefits most from the music. If I'm writing something in the genres of horror or thriller, some dark and heavy music helps set the mood, and the set pieces and ideas that come out of that and flow into the writing echo that feeling. If I'm doing adventure or fantasy, epic Celtic or cinematic soundtracks are best. When I'm at the desk actually typing, I have the music off most of the time; if the words are coming slow, it can be helpful to play a song or two to get the mood right.

Some of my best writing, in my mind, comes to be associated with specific types of music - sometimes even particular artists or songs. To the extent that hearing the music again can bring to mind the story.
Aha, Metallica, @Paul Whybrow. I suggest you avoid Enter Sandman. ;) Oh, and maybe don't select Saint Anger while you're querying to agents.

Putting on music during writing doesn't even cross my mind. Kinda a ironic since I live with a part-time musician. The only music I ever listen to while writing is the racket he creates in the background when he's recording. And I once wrote during a gig of his (it may be 50s R&R these days, but it's still deafening). The loud volume was actually nicely cocooning, combined with the fact there was nothing else for me to do (it was at a classic car show and I had seen enough old timers), it turned into a productive session on a writing app. Other than that, I live in a super quiet area, but I tune the world out anyway. Writing is my escape from the c**p..
I do. I've created mood playlists on Spotify, from movie soundtracks. When I listen to the action playlist, my fingers fly. I've headphones too, so my 'tortoise enclosure', is complete.
I don’t know where I would without my Spotify, love it, it’s so easy to use and there is tonnes of music to choose from. It’s a great way to ignite my writing sparks, that form ideas then morph into stories.
I need it, I can't concentrate without it. If I can't have music, I choose crowded noisy places like the cafeteria at work , restaurants, etc.

The music/noise occupies the part of my brain that's easily distracted; keeps it from wandering off on tangents and silliness. That way, the part that focuses on the creative endeavor can do so.

I'm told it makes me weird... :eek:
Hey everyone - we appear to have the definitive answer (unearthed, in part, by colleagues of mine at Lancaster):

For my own part, I might focus on the reference in the article to lyrics. Personally, I find that if (a) I start writing and get some rhythm before I start up the music and (b) I only play instrumental (and typically drum-free) music, then I stay productive.
I find drinking helps my writing, at first. I get really fluid and even my typing improves then I have one too many and it all crashes. It reminds me of playing darts in the pub. A few drinks relaxes everything but I never knew when to stop. :)
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53 Writing Contests in March 2019 - No entry fees

Amusement Why Are Writers...?