Music habits while writing..

I got to thinking about my music-listening habits while I am drafting. With Isla’s Inheritance and the sequel, I either listened to nothing at all (when you have a small-child noisemaker, silence is very restful!) or to Tim Minchin live—one of the concerts with an orchestra.

It wasn’t that Tim Minchin’s comedy music style was particularly appropriate for the books, just that it was the thing I chose when I first started drafting, and I came to associate it with writing those books. I play it quietly—just enough to block the background noise of traffic or people moving around the house. My writing sessions tend to be short by necessity so usually I’d get through the full album by the end.

But I thought maybe when I write something different I ought to branch out, that maybe a new musical style could help me capture the voice for a new book.

Which got me to wondering how other writers approach music when writing. I love stickybeaking into other writers’ processes. It makes me feel more normal. 😉

So I asked some of my tweeps about their writing habits when it comes to music, and here is what some of them said. (Two or three others said they write with silence, or with the TV as background noise, but I haven’t included them here because, well, MUSIC!) I hope you find them as interesting as I did.

If you’re inclined to share, please leave a comment about your approach.


So it would seem that, these days, more and more writers are releasing music scores with their books. The music being what they listened to during the writing of said books. To me, as a wannabe writer, this said that if I wanted to write amazing literary masterpieces, then I needed to listen to amazing music as I wrote as well.

I hit upon one snag. I love to sing along to all the songs! Now this wouldn’t be a problem, but I end up spending most of my writing time bopping along to the tunes, singing at the top of my lungs (even when I wear headphones) into an imaginary microphone, and generally annoying everyone who happens to be in the house at the time.

Oh yes, and that other problem, I get no writing done because I am majorly distracted by my singing/miming prowess. However, I have found the solution to this problem. Music with no lyrics. Classical, piano or gothic (look it up on Youtube, some is rubbish, but a lot is inspiring) tend to get my writing juices cranking. I even find that, if the piece I am listening to is particularly moving, so are the words I write while listening to it. (Well, that’s just my opinion anyway, and like most writers, I guess I’m fairly biased.)


For me, accompaniment is usually ambient: classical, orchestral, strings, or, my personal favourite, movie soundtracks. Typically I find that if I know the words to a song there is temptation to sing them aloud, and that even if I resist that temptation my mind still goes to words it knows rather than create new ones. With classical this is never an issue!

But sometimes, when the occasion is right, I also select music by scene: hard rock for training or a fight; bass-heavy for a party; indie or swing for the playful; artists and songs that suit a certain character to help flesh them out.

Regardless of what I’m listening to, I often use music engines such as 8tracks that allow you to search for playlists by tag: “epic”, “alternative”, “girly”, “50s”, “badass”, or heck, even “writing”!


For me, listening to music while I write is like having the soundtrack to the film that’s running through my head. It started off that I’d have whatever music I loved at the time playing while I wrote. For my first book and its sequel, it was The Rasmus–an alternative rock band that I’d fallen in love with. With later works, they’ve either been influenced by the latest album I’m listening too, or I’ve started writing them and added an album as the story’s unofficial soundtrack. My steampunk superhero romance has Linkin Park’s Living Things, my gritty space opera The Dirty Youth. My YA scifi novel had My Chemical Romance and Elliott Minor.

At the moment I’m looking at buying some soundtracks from my favourite sci-fi series and films so that I have music without the distraction of lyrics – there’s nothing worse than typing out a really great line only to realise you’ve lifted it straight from the song you were just listening too. Inspiration is great – copying is not!


Mostly, when I’m writing, I listen to instrumental music, so the words don’t interfere. But it has to be just the right kind. Classical, in my mind is too loud and harsh, and movie soundtracks are ok, but primarily for the sweeping, dramatic scenes. Usually I want something that is a more earthy and airy and a little less battlegroundesque.

These are some of my favorite artists and albums for that purpose, listed from most relaxing to most energising:

  • Mum – Finally We Are No One
  • Robyn Miller – Myst Soundtrack (yes I used to play this, yes I listen to the soundtrack)
  • Sigur Ros – Anything and everything Sigur Ros
  • Little People – Mickey Mouse Operation
  • Sunlounger –
  • The Future Sounds of London – Lifeforms  and Accelerator
  • Nightmares on Wax – Carboot Soul, Mind Elevation
  • Bonobo – Black Sands
  • Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everything

… also a smattering of things from Buckethead, RJD2, Mark Farina, Telepopmusik, Bibio, Caribou, Thievery Corporation, Four Tet, The Orb and Sia often show up on my playlists. Sometimes I sneak in a bit of things with words, and if I do they are invariably Lykke Li, Junip or Iron and Wine.


When I write, I find I do it best accompanied to the sweet sounds of silence. I’m so obsessed with words that even listening to background music can pull my focus to the lyrics in the song and what it all means. Before I know it, I’ll be so out of my manuscript I struggle to get back in. Silence just works so much better for me. More often than not, the only thing I like to hear while drafting is the casual clink of my wine glass against my teeth (ouch).

However, there is the odd exception to this rule: and that exception goes by the name of Swift. Taylor Swift.

Yes, I know it’s embarrassing, and it’s not like I know ALL* the words or anything, but I feel like she’s the quintessential emotional wreck that a lot of the time my characters seem to be. Whether I’m after a heartache, a strong stance, a romance or a fiery heat of the moment exchange, Taylor is passionate about it and that can definitely put me in the mood to write if I’m stuck in a moment. I just have to make sure my characters avoid saying never, ever, ever, ever…

*All meaning all. I’d say I’m familiar with a comfortable 99%

2 Comments on “Music habits while writing..”

  1. Julie Israel says:

    Wow! How crazy (and revealing)– we all said the same thing about lyrics! And Susan– I am exactly the same way when it comes to singing along 😉

    Also, I like that my American “favorite” sprouted a “u” in it…it’s the trademark of international exchange 🙂

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