Your Writing Soundtrack

I’m not someone who has to have music on when I write.  I’ve written in silence, and I’ve written in noisy places without benefit of music–or sometimes in places playing music I didn’t care for, which meant I tuned the music out.  But I prefer to have music (that I like) on when I write.

I usually can’t write to music with lyrics, though.  I’ll get distracted and start singing along (I’m a singer, after all).  But there are exceptions.  If the lyrics are in a language I don’t speak, then I can usually listen to the song while writing.  (Usually.  If it’s a song I’ve performed myself, then I’m probably familiar enough with the lyrics that they’ll become distracting, regardless of whether I can speak the language.)  Or, sometimes a song is just so perfect thematically or atmospherically for what I’m working on that the lyrics become more inspiring and focusing than distracting.

As for what music I do listen to while writing: I’m a big film and TV score nerd, and those are generally what I put on while writing.  Of course, scores were written to accompany/help tell a story, so it probably makes sense that I’d find them good for writing.

(Side note: this all goes out the window when writing something other than fiction. Lyrics generally aren’t a problem for me when I’m writing things like blog entries and stuff for my day job.  Actually, scores can be distracting when I’m doing non-fiction writing, probably because they make me want to go work on my fiction instead.)

While I mostly listen to film/TV scores while writing fiction, sometimes other music sets the right mood.  For the short story I’m working on now, Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble have been the perfect accompaniment.  Some other non-film score music on my writing playlist includes Lisa Gerrard, Emma Shapplin (despite being familiar with Italian, I can usually tune out her lyrics when necessary), and a fair amount of classical music from various periods, from medieval music to modern composers like Philip Glass.  Of course, Lisa Gerrard and Philip Glass both do film music themselves, and some of the Emma Shapplin tracks I have are from the soundtrack for Red Planet, but that’s not all I have from them in my collection.

I’ll occasionally make a specialized playlist for a story or chapter. For a novel scene in which there was some dancing going on, for example, I made a playlist with dance music appropriate to the setting.  I have a playlist specifically for battle and fight scenes.  But I usually stick to two playlists, cleverly named Writing Music 1 and Writing Music 2.  Just for fun, here are the first 10 albums to come up when I put Writing Music 1 on shuffle:

  1. Doctor Who (Murray Gold)
  2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Harry Gregson-Williams)
  3. Torchwood (Ben Foster)
  4. Merlin (Trevor Jones)
  5. Battlestar Galactica (Bear McCreary)
  6. The Last Unicorn (Jimmy Webb)
  7. Schindler’s List (John Williams)
  8. The Last Starfighter (Craig Safan)
  9. Red Planet (Graeme Revell)
  10. Romances for Saxophone (Branford Marsalis)

So how about you fine folk?  Do you prefer silence while you write? Music? White noise in the background?  And if you do listen to music, what type?  Are you someone who creates specialized playlists for projects?  Do you listen to specific albums for specific stories?  Or do you just put iTunes on shuffle and see what happens?

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