Music To Scribble By; or What’s On Your Writing Playlist?

(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)

So as I mentioned in last week’s entry*, this week’s topic is music for writing.

What makes good writing music? Each of Carrie Vaughn’s “Kitty Norville” books includes a playlist of music that inspired her during the writing of that volume. That’s one way to select music, of course, by choosing songs that invoke one of your characters, or a setting, or a plot point. I have certain songs that fit in with my stories that way. When one character was torn away from everyone and everything she had ever known, another character who befriended her at that point became her “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” When I was writing a particularly painful love triangle, “Torn Between Two Lovers” popped up on my playlist, and as cheesy as it was, it fit my story perfectly. At another point, when one character faced possible death, VNV Nation’s “Beloved” was so poignant that it hurt.

Another trick I’ve done during NaNoWriMo is to skip to a random song on the iPod or music player, and incorporated that song into the next chapter somehow, either literally or thematically. So “Smoke on the Water” inspired a battle scene, while Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” led to an interrupted sex scene.

But while finding inspiration in music can be productive, or at least amusing, most of the time, when I’m writing, I just want some good background music. For me, that generally means that it needs to be instrumental. Sadly, vocal music, even vocal music that I know and love, is just a little too distracting for me to have playing while I write. If I don’t get carried off with singing along, the lyrics sometimes get tangled in what I’m trying to write. (As I write this, I’m listening to Loreena McKennitt’s album, “The Wind That Shakes The Barley,” and it’s proving to be more than a little distracting. I may have to switch to something more instrumental for a few minutes, just so I can finish this.)

So instrumental is the obvious answer. And there’s plenty of it out there, which is a good thing. But as I’ve discovered, it can’t be just any old instrumental music.

Things that don’t work (for me, anyway):

  • Most classical music. I don’t know why, but trying to write while listening to classical music is difficult for me. Perhaps it’s because the composer is trying to tell me one story while I’m trying to tell another.
  • Music that’s too soft and soothing. Because it will put me to sleep. Duh.
  • Music that’s too raucous or jarring. Hard rock instrumentals and some electronica fall into this category. If it distracts my brain from what it’s trying to write, it doesn’t work.

So what does that leave? Well, in my case, a lot of new age/ambient music, some world music (instrumental Celtic music seems to be a win, as does Andean flute music), soundtracks (Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Narnia, and the latest Zorro films all seem to work), and stray bits of light jazz and space music.

I have to admit that one of my favorite composers, as far as good writing music goes, is David Arkenstone. His album “In The Wake Of The Wind” (samples here) is one of the best albums of all time (at least on my top-ten list). And while his latest album, Ambient World, represents a departure from most of his previous work, it’s excellent writing music. Go have a listen to some sample tracks if you don’t believe me.

Of course, my ideal writing music will be different from anyone else’s. So what do other people like to listen to while they’re cranking out words?

* which was only written two days ago. Oops.


About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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