The creation of the art is similar to its output. Music can be played in a band of others to a crowd. Movies are crafted by huge teams of people. But writing is, again, a solitary experience. And again, you can’t really do anything else while you’re writing. It demands your complete attention and brainpower, and if you get distracted it will show in your less-than-committal words. Quite a daunting fact if you consider just how long it takes to write and edit a novel. That’s a lot of quiet time. Either writing attracts the privacy-obsessed eccentrics of the world or it turns you into one. I’ll leave you to decide which one I am.
It doesn’t need to be silent, though. Listening to music while writing is an option, and it’s one that many folks find helps to get the creative juices going, to create a mood that can help tease the story out and inspire you to the higher heights of writing while riding the wave of the orchestral swells.
What type of music one should listen to depends on what you are writing, though it should always be non-distracting, so anything with distinct vocals is a big no-no. Even if you’ve made a playlist with 80s Pop classics that you’ve heard a thousand times and it’s all white noise at this point, if you can hear the words then it is picking at your brain to be recognised and to be made into sentences and meaning, and that means a subconscious drain on the brain. There are exceptions, though: artists like Enya work wonders for those looking for something more mystical or ponderous.
Beware ambient music, though. Oh, I love Chillout and the Café Del Mar series as much as anyone, but the problem is that your writing’s default tone will be tense and tight – the very essence that keeps a reader on the hook and turning those pages. Calming smooth jazz music will fizzle away any attempts you have on trying to crank up that tension. I dare you to try and write a car chase or an epic showdown while listening to elevator music. It will kill your writing unless you’re deliberately writing a relaxed scene or a casual blog post like this.
Movie soundtracks are a great place to start, especially if the movie is similar in style and mood to your writing project. Sweeping high fantasy is just begging to be written to the sounds of The Lord of the Rings or Gladiator, while moody Sci-Fi dystopias work with Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack or The Matrix Revolutions. Just be careful of the two pitfalls of the soundtrack approach, though: it may evoke the movie you love too much, and it may end up colouring your writing too much to the point that it becomes something akin to a send-up of that movie as opposed to something to merely inspire you. Also, because soundtracks are built around a movie, the music will likewise have it’s highs and lows that match up with the story, and your favourite soaring strings that you use for the victorious moments will be as frustratingly fleeting as the low moody pieces you use when your character is in the doldrums, so constantly skipping back and forth to find the matching mood can be more hassle than it’s worth.
Your best bet is to construct a playlist of tunes with a constant tone throughout. YouTube makes this very easy, and there are loads of artists and channels out there who do all the hard work for you by making videos that are literally ‘3 hours of dark emotional music’. Adrian von Ziegler is especially good at this: go and check him out if you haven’t already.
Regardless, I do recommend that you listen to the music at least once before you commit to writing fodder. Not only will it help you screen it to see if it’s appropriate to your needs, it will be less distracting the second time around. And that’s the main quality of the music you should look for when selecting what to write with: remember that the writing is the main thing here. The music is only there to help you enhance your writing and tease out your finer qualities. Don’t get too hung up on creating the perfect playlist, of skipping back and forth to find the perfect track for the perfect moment in the narrative. Tellingly, when you’re in the flow and the words pour from your fingers onto the page, you’ll probably end up shutting the music off anyway because it’s distracting!