Writing to Music

January 2, 2011

When it comes to writing to music, people seem to be in one of two camps. Some people love it, others hate it.

Predictably, perhaps, I fall in the middle of the road. Most of the time, I prefer to write in silence. Usually I have enough “earworms” running through my head anyway… Some people have photographic memories, mine’s phonographic. There are times, however, when I do put something on. This typically happens during big, climactic scenes: the right song sometimes taps you into deeper feeling and makes the scene come to life.

Of course, it is all about finding the right song. Even during big, climactic scenes, I’d much rather have instrumental music. Actually, scratch that. It’s all right if the words are in a different language. I’ve used Schubert’s “Ave Maria” before, and some stuff from Wagner’s Ring Cycle (not the Ride of Valkyries… yet…). There are some exceptions, but that tends to be the way it goes. When I have lyrics I can understand, it always feels like half my brain is paying attention to them, “singing along” if I know the song well.  While that’s to be expected, I think it’s better to have my whole brain focused on the task at hand, particularly if it’s an important piece of writing.

If anything, what I find most helpful is creating a playlist for a specific work, and then listening to it while I’m not writing. It gives my subconscious something to chew on, and gets me excited for writing time. Some of the best insights I’ve had have occurred while walking down the street with the right music in my ears. And in this case, it’s fine if the words are in English. 🙂 A few of my characters have their own theme songs; songs I can imagine them singing if the story was a musical. The only downside to all of this is that when I’m done with the novel, or story, or whatever, it’s sometimes hard to go back to that particular music. Not because it drives me crazy, but because I’m sad to leave a particular world and its characters.

Still, searching for the best song to fit a particular character or mood has led me to some great music that I would have never found otherwise. My novel-in-progress (which will probably be changing its title, incidentally) was mostly written to a boys’ choir calling itself Libera, and some scores to movies I’ve yet to see, including Pan’s Labyrinth, Watchmen, and The Fountain. It’s all part of the learning, isn’t it? Unlikely connections form and take you down entirely unexpected paths… and you’re richer for it.

In case anyone is interested, here’s the playlist I came up with for the novel:

  • And I saw a New Heaven- Edgar Bainton
  • Dan’s Apocalyptic Dream- Watchmen soundtrack
  • I am the Day- Libera
  • Hallelujah- Leonard Cohen
  • Kontakion- Rupert Lang
  • Gothica- Sarah Brightman
  • Lacrymosa- Libera
  • Lacrymosa- Evanescence
  • Magnificat in G Minor- Vivaldi
  • Who Wants to Live Forever- Queen (sung by Sarah Brightman)
  • Long, Long Time Ago- Pan’s Labryinth soundtrack
  • The End of All Things- Lord of the Rings soundtrack
  • Tree of Life- The Fountain soundtrack
  • Holy Dread!- The Fountain soundtrack
  • Voca Me- Libera
  • Time- Libera

In other news, I’ll be back tomorrow. I bet it feels like I never left, eh? Jet-lag may keep me from posting anything right away, but there will be new updates soon.





  1. I’m right there with you, every now and then I’ll put on some classical music…or sometimes Metallica…when I write. Usually, however, I prefer to write in silence, or maybe put on a bad Kung Fu movie. We actually did a short series on music to write to over at While We’re Paused.


  2. I had deja vu reading this piece. Did you re-post this? Or is it “just my imagination, once again, running away with me”?

    I write in silence, most of the time. But every once in a while, I break the silence with some Dave Matthews, or Patchouli, or Little Feat, or George Harrison, or . . .

    Music rocks!

    Welcome back . . . almost.

    • I’ve probably talked about music in passing… Maybe that’s it? Thanks for the welcome; another 10 hours or so and I’ll be home!

    • It may have been on someone else’s blog. Perhaps on Sinister Echoes or Uphill Writing.

      My recollection is that they also posted a play list geared to specific scenes, moods, etc.

      Safe travels.

  3. I swear, musicians/song writers are the people who are created to help their fellow writers with their stories. They are heaven sent…some scenes need to have the writer be in a certain mood. Songs help the writer get into that mindset.
    If I want something dramatic, I always listen to Phantom of the Opera. Dragonforce for the high actions scenes.
    Songs+writing=perfect combo! 🙂

    • I LOVE Phantom. Seriously. LOVE it. You gave excellent taste, my friend. 🙂

  4. I too write to music as it drowns out the voices in my head…those voices of course being the other creative projects that I am not working on to focus on the creative project I am working on. It also drowns out the “to do” list that is a buzz kill for my muse like no other thing. Sometimes I listen to Classical…this is when I want to write until my hand cramps up and my fingers bleed and I can’t slow down to pay attention to lyrics. Other times it is whatever comes on Pandora or my mp3; a random montage of music that allows for a more leisure pace of writing. Excellent post!

  5. I’ve never been all that musically inclined, so it isn’t a major part of my writing time. My ipod is almost entirely filled with audio books and other recorded material… and about two CD’s. When I write, I let the story expand into my head, so I can see it and hear it. The characters take on voices, and the story comes to life inside.

    Isn’t it funny how the brain works? We all create differently, but in the end, we’re still all creators just the same, music or no music.

  6. I, too, have to listen to music in a different language or I get too caught up in the story. Made a big mistake listening to ‘The Shores of the Swilly’ by Sinaed O’Connor. Haunting story I can’t forget and want to know the ending to. Soundtracks work for me (A Thousand Roads, The Waterhorse), anything by Loreena McKennit, Anonymous 4, Lisa Gerrard. Although lately, hearing only the creek I live near, or the wind seems to be more word-inspiring.

  7. “Dark Side of the Moon” helped me write a novella about the water ice in the southern lunar craters, and Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra got me through a story about Dorothy Gale as a 20s barnstormer.

    Music silences the distractions for me, something that allows me to get the writing actually done instead of contemplated.

  8. It so depends on the day if I can listen or not. The more revved up (anxious, stressed) I am the more I need to plug in to turn off my day and enter the world of my story. Love Sarah Brightman!

  9. If you love Libera join the number one fan site in the uk, and across the world:


  10. […] throw in a variable. Namely, Libera, which formed much of the “soundtrack” for my writing, is hitting Canada for the first […]

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