Music To Listen To While Writing


What I listen to while writing depends on the type of writing I’m working on. If I’m hammering out a first draft or just freewriting as fast as my hand will move across the page, then I like a good dose of something upbeat like electroswing. On the other hand if I’m editing or concentrating on a specific problem, I usually find myself listening to something more ambient and electronic.

Popular opinion seems to favour music without lyrics while writing. I can understand how singing can interfere with the thought process – the last thing you want is to accidentally slip a recognisable line from your favourite song in to your main character’s dialogue. I’ve never had trouble with listening to voices while writing myself though, in fact when I don’t fancy music I often work while listening to a gaming stream or an old sitcom that I know word-for-word (looking at you Red Dwarf).

I don’t use the popular streaming services much – Pandora, Spotify etc. I’ve never much liked them because of the intrusive adverts and the need to skip terrible songs which breaks my concentration. I’ve always prefered to keep a music library on my computer (which I was recently told is an old fashioned approach, who knew?).

Then there are people who don’t listen to music at all – writers who can’t work unless they find someplace completely silent. And on the other end of the spectrum there are those who prefer the noise of a busy environment, like a cafe, while they write. JK Rowling is known for writing the first Harry Potter book throughout various cafes in Edinburgh. I have trouble understanding how anyone can concentrate in public places but it clearly works for some people.

So those are my listening habits, how about yours? What helps you stay focused while you’re writing?

© 2015, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Photo by brett jordan licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

3 thoughts on “Music To Listen To While Writing”

  1. These days I usually don’t have music playing when I’m writing, but I usually do have music playing when I’m revising (my own work) or editing (other people’s work). It’s nearly all songs — music with lyrics — but it’s generally songs I know pretty well so I’m not likely to interrupt myself to listen real closely. Ruthie Foster’s cover of Brownie McGhee’s “Walk On” has slipped into my novel in progress. One character, a Ruthie fan, sings it for another, and it’s absolutely drop-dead perfect for what’s going on in the novel. I know how hard it is to get permission to use song lyrics in a novel, and I know how expensive it can be, so I’m really, really hoping I can work around this. But if it turns out that the novel really, really needs those lyrics, I’ll fight as hard as I can to get permission to use them.

    1. I think that’s the key – listening to familiar music so it becomes background noise and doesn’t interfere.

      It never occured to me how difficult it would be to incorporate lyrics in to a book from a copyright perspective. You’re right, it does seem like more trouble than it’s worth. I suppose you could always create a character inside your story that takes the place of the real life singer, and then create your own lyrics for their song. It would certainly be more of a challenge. But on the plus side you could introduce yourself as ‘Susanna – writer, editor, songwriter.’

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