Do you listen to music while writing?

I have been asked many times whether or not I listen to music while writing or reading. I honestly don’t know how anybody could read for long periods of time while listening to music, as it’s far too distracting, but when it comes to writing, it’s a different story. Perhaps it’s because I am so concentrated on writing, that my mind blocks out the lyrics while I try to express myself, often with my feet tapping (or sometimes dancing while sitting – a talent indeed), but it is rare I find myself writing in silence.

I have long been interested in the way music affects my writing. Although I believe we initially choose what music to listen to based on our moods, I also think that during the listening experience the music manipulates our mood – sometimes it exacerbates the positive or negative feelings we may have already had, and sometimes it reverses these completely, cheering us up or making us feel melancholy.

For me I find my writing is much more strongly affected by the emotions that music drives me towards rather than those upon which the musical choice was based. And while this may not affect my non-fiction writing (including this blog – although, yes, I am dancing right now in my recliner while writing this, because I am that awesome), it certainly influences my fictional writing, to the point that sometimes my story changes as a result. Suddenly a happy ending can turn into a bittersweet ending if I’m listening to, say, Pink Floyd, while The Beatles can bring a character out of the depths of despair, and The Flaming Lips can just send everything into chaos, and so on and so forth.

I know, however, that not everybody is the same – some people need to write in complete silence, while others use music to block out distractions. Some people listen to instrumental music, or classical music, while others listen to heavy metal with screaming vocals or thumping dance music. So my question is:

Do you listen to music while writing (and if so, what kind of music)?

56 thoughts on “Do you listen to music while writing?

    • I know what you mean – I quite often turn to classical for that reason. I especially used classical music when I was writing essays for university, back in the day….(I sound like an old man…) πŸ™‚

  1. I listen to music while doing pretty much everything. πŸ™‚
    It depends on what I’m reading/writing about, really. But music helps me study like nothing else does. I can’t do Math without Led Zepplin. Can’t study Physics without Porcupine Tree.
    And for the times that I need to hear myself think, and the lyrics distract me, I put on something that has no vocals – Al Di Meola, William Ackerman, Tommy Emmanuel. There’s music for everything. πŸ™‚

    • I’m not particularly surprised you listen to music while doing almost anything! πŸ˜›
      That’s really interesting though that you listen to certain kinds of music for different subjects. Led Zeppelin would be a good way to rev yourself up to tear through some Math work, and I would have guessed Pink Floyd for physics so Porcupine Tree are a pretty good guess in a way.
      But yes, you are right, there is music for everything! And when there’s not, I imagine it up in my head anyway! πŸ˜€

      • Eeek. I missed an ‘e’ in Zeppelin. :O
        I do that, too. For an exam, seeing as I can’t really play music out loud, I have to have it in my head. I started bopping my head and tapping my foot once, without noticing. (I got tapped on the shoulder and frowned at for it) πŸ˜›

        • Hehehe, I didn’t want to bring attention to the missing ‘e’, I was just going to brush over it! It was a typo, not a spelling mistake, right? πŸ˜›
          That is funny you got frowned at for tapping your feet and bopping to music in your head…I do that sometimes, and come to think of it I have done that a lot in exams before, too. πŸ˜›

          • Wireless keyboard. Hate the damn things.
            Can’t help it sometimes, can you? I have to do my very best not to mouth the words, because I’ve been told I look completely bonkers. I’m like Marcus from About A Boy, sometimes. I randomly start singing as a continuation of what’s playing in my head. Does that happen to you? πŸ˜›

            • Yeah yeah, blame the keyboard! πŸ˜› Nah I’m just kidding haha.
              Actually yes, I do that sometimes too, I’ll just sing a random line of a song because it started in my head. I do it a lot when I’m alone in the house or driving! πŸ˜›

    • I bet you even listen to music when you sleep, huh? πŸ˜› But I do think that is awesome you listen to music as much as you do (even when you’re reading…that still baffles me πŸ˜› ).

  2. It depends! I was going to write something like this actually, but mostly I have to have some music in the background. It’s official film scores and soundtracks to set the mood of the scene. It’s very rare that it’s silent in my house, so sometimes I need it to block things out.

    Sometimes I need silence.

    • I know what you mean – when I lived at home with my parents it was so noisy I had to have music to at least block things out. Since I now essentially live on my own (with my sis but she’s never here), there are times where I can have complete silence, and take advantage of that from time to time. It’s interesting you mention soundtracks too, a lot of people seem to be saying that – something I haven’t done too much, actually. But I like that others do it! πŸ™‚

      • The reason I mostly go with soundtracks is because their sole function is to create mood. They can define a film and also ruin it, in my view. Like a theme tune – you instantly tell the theme, nature and atmosphere from a show and what to expect from it from a theme tune, so that’s why I go to non-lyrical pieces. My playlists for characters are different, of course.

        I live with my Mum, and next door to noisy…. so and so’s. πŸ˜€

        • That is very true. I had heard parts of the soundtrack to Inception long before I saw it, and that was one soundtrack that enhanced that film in so many ways, it was just amazing.
          Hahaha, yeah, noisy neighbours can be annoying sometimes. I’m at the end of a block of a townhouses, so I only have a direct neighbour on one wall, and they are fairly quiet. We do have some noisy neighbours down the road though who have voices that echo so loudly down the street it’s a wonder they don’t shatter windows with them… πŸ˜›

  3. Music is essential for writing… trying to imagine a scene and capture its moments for a story you create is quite difficult. You need to feel the moment, music stimulate your feelings, when you take some time and listen to a musical score while you think of a specific scene, you’ll get creative all of a sudden… best of my ideas came to me while listening to music.
    You need emotions, and music is all about stimulating them.
    All the best with your writings πŸ™‚

    • Yep, I agree – music stimulates emotions, which in turn stimulates the language and the writing! For me, even if I am not listening to music, I am imagining it in my mind (though this is rare that I am not listening to music).
      Thank you, and likewise to you! πŸ™‚

  4. I cannot write if a song with lyrics is playing in the background – I find myself typing the words of the song rather than what my muse is whispering to me! When I was writing about my character learning native spirituality, I picked up a few CD’s with some music that fit the scenes. That really helped me project the mood into my story. I even picked up an audio tape (yes, I’m showing my age again!) that contained some old Scottish songs that reflected the time period I was writing about. It was great inspiration, as long as I listened to the lyrics before I started writing. Mind you, I actually incorporated the words to one or two songs into the story because I was writing about a fiddler singing those particular songs. Other than that, I usually write in silence. πŸ™‚

    • Actually, funnily enough I have done that before, and have only noticed when proofreading that my dialogue suddenly includes a song lyric I distinctly don’t remember putting in there, but remember singing ten minutes earlier! Glad I’m not the only one who has done that.
      I have bought some CDs for specific purposes and atmospheres like that as well! (I also own a number of cassette tapes…I even own records, although the records are a more a sign of my love for rubbish antique stores, than an indicator of my age).
      It is so fascinating to see the range of answers I am getting to this post, it seems everybody is very different with how they write when it comes to music. πŸ™‚

  5. Whether its music, TV, or idle chatter at a coffee shop, I feel like I write better when I have something going in the background – though, I have nothing to prove or disprove this. I’m not sure I could say specifically what I listen to though since I usually try to keep it innocuous. I like the soundtrack idea that seems to keep popping up – those usually have such a varied range of emotions packed in! Thanks for writing –

    • That’s an interesting idea, that you just need some kind of noise, not necessarily music. And you’re right, I think it is the emotional resonance of the soundtracks that causes people to lean towards that kind of music – it is a response that has really surprised me that one, especially in how common it is. πŸ™‚

  6. At the moment I’m finding listening to any music distracting. I used to enjoy listening to music that reflects the particular character, or mood I’m writing about – e.g. if my protagonist is a teenage girl, I like listening to music which would reflect what teenage girl’s feel – recently discovered Misty Miller – amazing talent. Unfortunately I’m having problems writing at the moment – probably why I find all music distracting.

    • Oh wow she has a good voice! πŸ™‚ And that is a good approach too – to get into the heads of your characters by listening to music appropriate for them, or that would resonate with them.
      I know how you feel with having trouble writing – I am having that same problem as well. I have a lot of catching up to do later this year, it seems. It’ll come back to us both, I am sure! πŸ™‚

  7. I can’t listen to music, if it’s on in the background it doesn’t bother me much but I would never deliberately put it on and I do love music but no – I have to concentrate

    • That’s understandable. I think sometimes loving music can be part of the reason why some people don’t listen to music while writing, because it is that much more distracting if they love it more. πŸ™‚

  8. I love listening to music while writing. I find I’m able to escape from every day life that surrounds me. Creativity flows out of me when I get to listen to some of my favourite songs. On the other hand, I cannot write while the television is on. I find that it is the biggest distraction when I try to write.

    • Actually, I would agree with that too – I find if I’m writing with the television on I get nothing done. Which is probably why I rarely watch it these days, and just listen to music instead! πŸ™‚

    • Ah interesting blog post! And I agree, I think the type of music does make a huge difference, particularly when it comes to it being instrumental or not – lyrics do make it more distracting, even if it is perhaps only on a subconscious level.

  9. My husband (a published author) can listen to music whilst he read and whilst he writes. Actually he listened to music during the writing of both his books. Me.. I can not. I can’t even have the TV on in the background, or anyone else within earshot. I need complete silence. But hey, that’s just me.

    • Ah interesting – I find it amazing people can listen to music while they read, and I have found a couple of people have responded with this (one seemed shocked that I didn’t listen to music while reading, because she knows how much I listen to music, which kind of made me laugh).
      But I do know what you mean – some people find music just as distracting as any other noise. It really does just change from person to person, and I love the wide array of responses this question has brought up. πŸ™‚

  10. I usually play jazz and classical when I have an important work to concentrate on (like an essay or report) but when I write fiction I can usually listen to everything and not get distracted and, for me at least, the music kind of help me set a mood. When I want to write something twisted I listen to “darker” music and when I want to write something fluffy or nice I listen to happy music or rock music and such. I think it is possible to make music a part of your writing process but it obviously depends on the person.

    • I agree with that – I think jazz or classical are much easier to listen to while writing essays or similar academia. Actually the way you listen to music while writing is remarkable like mine, come to think of it. But yes, as you say, it all depends on the person, and from the responses I’ve seen here people really do change a lot on this.

  11. I listen to music when i write. haha. I love to imagine myself as a leading lady, in a love story, who writes on her journal with a warm and fuzzy music on the background. Now, you’re laughing at me. =) Nevertheless, yes, I do listen to music when I read. Have a cool day!

  12. I listen to music while writing from time to time, to help set the mood, but mostly I like the way music provides raw material and ideas for new stories. Music can definitely have a profound effect on the text I’m writing and it’s a great source of inspiration whenever a story seems to have come to a stuttering halt or when things are just not working out the way I expected them to.

    Actually, this post reminded me that many, many years ago I wrote a piece of (lousy) science fiction inspired by the album “Tragic Kingdom” by No Doubt. Haha, it was so bad. Lately I’m mostly listening to a crazy mix of The Strokes, Rufus Wainwright, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Coldplay… well, the list goes on.

    • I agree, sometimes writing can come to a halt because you’re uninspired or in the wrong frame of mind, and I think maybe music can change that mood or re-inspire and rejuvenate writing.
      Wow, that would have been interesting, the sci-fi piece you wrote from Tragic Kingdom (I just listened to that album the other day, actually – it was one of those albums I remember growing up with). Likewise I’ve been flitting between a lot of different bands, though I keep coming back to Rufus Wainwright’s new album at the moment (I just love how seventies it feels).

  13. Haha, that sci-fi story was truly terrible and luckily it seems to have been lost to the world forever, along with many other stories I wrote in those teenage years. It was one of the first texts I tried to write in English (being a Swede) and it S H O W S. πŸ™‚

    Tragic Kingdom was a great album, right? Was it still good when you listened to it now? Sometimes an artist or an album looses it charm over the years, sometimes it’s the other way around. I have not listened to Wainwright’s new album, will have to check it out.

    • Ahhh I see, so there’s the lost in translation issue! I’ve gotta admit I didn’t realise you were a Swede until you pointed it out (which is a good thing so far as your writing goes πŸ˜› ). Having only ever known the one language, I have no excuse for any of my stories from my youth that might have sucked! πŸ˜›
      Tragic Kingdom was a great album, and I think it still is, along with No Doubt’s first two albums as well. πŸ™‚ They’re clearly from the 90s, but they still sound good! And Wainwright’s album is great, I have been struggling to stop listening to it this past week.

        • Hahaha, no, not at all! πŸ˜€
          Oh it really is like a time machine sometimes, which is probably why (on some subconscious level at least) I enjoy listening to older music so much – at least half of my collection is from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s (despite only being born in the mid 80s). And I love that as a teacher, I have seen modern teenagers still listening to older music too (I have started many the great conversation with a student about The Beatles). πŸ™‚

  14. I can’t write in silence so I’ve always got music playing. I mean that literally, music is ALWAYS ON. When it’s not, I’m sleeping or at work. Actually I’ve been known to fall asleep with my music still going so that doesn’t really count…

    I’ve never really notice it set the mood. I tend to block it out completely while I’m writing unless I pause and a really good song starts playing. The funny part is that when I’m writing a character death scene or something equally sad, something more uplifting/funny is playing. For instance, I was writing a main character death scene for NaNoWriMo last year and one of the songs that came on was AC/DC’s “Big Balls”. Followed shortly by “No More Mr. Nice Guy” which I found really funny.

    The only time I’ve ever used music to set the mood is when I first start a writing session. Then I pick something that goes along with what I’m about to write, read the last few pages and have at it. By the time I start writing though, the song I picked is over and I’ve tuned out what came on next.

    Oddly enough when I was younger I had to have complete silence to write. Maybe that’s why I’m re-writing everything now.

    • Ahhh that’s really interesting that you used to write in complete silence and now you need music to write all the time. You could be right about that being the reason why you’re rewriting everything – maybe just having music puts you in a completely different mindset.
      I love how the songs mismatch the moods of the scenes you’re writing, that’s quite hilarious. I don’t think I could continue writing those scenes with those songs actually, as it just wouldn’t feel right to me, but I guess that makes me realise how much the music does affect my writing. For me if I was writing a sad scene, I would need to find an album which was sad the whole way through (of which, luckily, I have plenty).

  15. Absolutely. My days are narrated by the playlist running softly in the background. Instrumentals for when i am reading, raucous rock & obnoxiously twangy country for housework and chores, jazz, swing, & big band for blogging, and hip-hop and blues while I cook. I sing, badly, all day long. I find it infinitely preferable to the mindless drone of television, and it’s better for the kids than turning their bright little minds to goo with cartoons all day.

    • Oh wow, I love how much the music you listen to varies depending on what you’re doing (it does with me as well, I must confess, but it’s nice to meet other people who don’t just listen to the same thing all day long). And there’s nothing wrong with singing all day long too – I always sing in my car, actually. as I spend a good hour and a half to two hours driving most days. But you’re right, it is so much better for kids to be surrounded by music, than flashing nonsensical lights and pictures on a screen! πŸ™‚

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