Writing with Music for People Who Hate Writing with Music
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Here’s a secret that alienates people as quickly as if I’d told them I kick puppies: I’m not really a music person.
There. I said it. Of course there are songs that I love and that inspire specific emotions. Of course I have an iTunes library full of music I enjoy. But I’ve never had a band that I’m obsessed with. I’ve gone to, like, two concerts in my life. I don’t lay on my bed and feel the music and let it speak to me. Maybe I should do those things, but I blame it on growing up in a house where my dad only listened to talk radio and my mom’s cassette staples were The Carpenters and Neil Diamond (who I still love. Don’t judge me!). There wasn’t a ton of music exposure, and I never looked for it on my own.
For years I’ve heard different ideas about using music as a tool for writing. Because music isn’t the way my brain functions, I usually find it distracting and it pulls me out of focus and out of what I’m trying to create.
Recently, though, I’ve found four ideas that really resonate with me and have changed the way I use music as a creative tool, where it’s the opposite of distraction—it inspires my writing and my creativity in ways I'd never imagined.
1. Music as a tool for creating MOOD.
This isn’t new or mind blowing, but in reading James Scott Bell’s Voice: The Secret Power of Great Writing he compares music to movie soundtracks for setting the mood and tone of your own writing. He says,“One of the best ways to get that flow going is by listening to music. Specifically, music that is tied to the kind of mood you’re after in a particular scene.”
He mentions movie soundtracks that inspire him, depending on the type of writing he’s doing. It's genius, really. Besides, if you’re envisioning your own story as a movie, why not envision the type of score you want playing when you inevitably sell the movie rights?
2. Music as a tool for creating VOICE.
This is also from Bell’s book, and it’s one I’ve never considered. Music can inspire that ever elusive voice we’re all striving to find. Bell argues that voice is a combination of the character you’re creating, the things you as an author bring to the table, and the words you put on the page. He says, “Put together your own playlists. Set your heart in motion, and write. Voice will begin to happen naturally.”
We often hear about imitating our favorite authors, but why not also let our favorite musicians influence the characters we’re bringing to life and the ways we portray them?
3. Music to block out distractions.
There are a lot of different ways people use music to block out distractions, from using songs with lyrics, songs without lyrics, to white noise and nature sounds.
Author Joanna Penn is a big advocate of playing rain and thunderstorms on repeat to block out distractions and help her get in the zone. I’ve tried this one, and I LOVE it. Maybe it's not specifically capital-M Music, but there’s something tranquil about thunderstorms that lets me relax and focus. It also trains my brain, as I'll mention in the final point.
4. Get in the zone and increase productivity.
Like a Pavlovian experiment, music can condition your brain so that when it hears certain music, it automatically realizes it's time to write. It’s time to do this thing that’s often hard to start.
Tim Castleman’s The 2kH Formula advocates a music list to use ONLY during writing. That way, your mind gets used to it so it’s background noise and not a distraction, but it kicks your brain into gear and allows you to enter “the zone” more quickly.
My husband mentioned that in college, he’d create separate playlists for each class. He’d study to those playlists throughout the semester, and then when it was time to take an exam, he’d listen to it on his way. His mind would start pulling up the ideas he’d read/studied while listening to that same music for months. Who knew I was married to such a genius?
Of the millions of ideas about music influencing creativity, these are a few ways I’ve found that music helps me.
Ultimately, it makes sense that music would play a role in writing because songs are just stories in a different medium. They’re themes, tones, characters, and tempos, all combined to create an overall message or feeling.
What about you? What ways do you incorporate music into your writing routines?