Whether to use music during the writing process is a hotly discussed topic among writers, it seems. Which kind of music? How loud? Does it influence the creative flow? If so, is that a bad thing? Etc. etc.
Personally, music plays a major part in my life and there are very few moments in my life where I don't listen to any kind of music, and when I write I also usually have the creative process accompanied by music - however, it varies strongly what I listen to and what I write, and I will tell you about my favourite music and what kind helps me in this post, so read on if you're curious.
Music shapes how I think, how I write, how I process. I surmise it is the same with most people and the magic of music is beyond grasping. I have talked to many writers of fiction and non-fiction about their writing habits and realised while some of them can write anywhere - a coffee shop, the library, with music or without, some have very specific aspects which need to be fulfilled in order to get creative. I would count myself to something in between, as I prefer writing in my own home and generally deem the whole "writing-in-a-café-trend to be rather a J.K. Rowling rip-off idea than anything else - but whatever any writer prefers. But back to the music issue. Mostly, people I have met refrain from listening to music, partly probably because they consider writing as a job and, usually, you don't listen to music while doing your job (even though most of us would most likely be much more productive if they did, just a thought). I know this to be true especially regarding academic writers and full-time freelance writers who actually try to achieve something with their writing - i.e. earn money or get a grade or present research.
When I write for my clients, I also usually don't listen to music, which is partly because I have to do research in order to write the article and music distracts me from reading; but also because this kind of writing is not a creative process as such for me and I don't seek to delve into an other-worldy state of creativity, but try to remain in the realms of here and now. As I have deadlines, edits, waiting clients, I cannot float along to my creative process, but need to work very high-focused and goal-oriented, which is much more flexible with my personal writing.
Ironically, writing academic papers is a quite different story. First of all, I don't particularly enjoy writing academic content, as it feels too overburdened with templates, regulations and a distinct idea of how it should be. I usually choose classical music like Chopin for writing. It seems to relax me a little, as writing academically is the only kind of writing which makes me feel uncomfortable, incompetent and nervous. The music takes the edge off and I can easier slip into a mindset where I forget about all the regulations and simply pour everything I want to say on paper without giving it too much thought at first. The music, however, can only play in the background and can't be too loudly.
Let's talk about books. I sometimes listen to music or not when writing non-fiction, but with fiction I always seem to need it. Listening to music almost seems like a gateway to my other realms I am creating on paper, or at least like a bridge. Not to say I wouldn't be able to write without, that would go too far, but it is an essential part of my fiction-writing-process. Usually I opt for score music, as it is important that the music does not have lyrics. Movie scores are driven, dramatic, but not too obtrusive. Absolutely fantastic scores I can recommend for writing include:
- Harry Potter soundtracks (especially 3,5,7)
- Lady in the Water
- Edward Scissorhands (or actually anything by Danny Elfman)
- The Theory of Everything
- The Imitation Game
- Pride and Prejudice (Keira Knightley version)
- Pan's Labyrinth
As you see, I usually head to the scores of fantasy movies, but some others are there too. Now one issue to bear in mind when writing with score is that it can actively mess with your creative process - but it can also drive it. Scenes I have written have seriously gained depth or taken a lighter or darker turn depending on which song was playing while I was writing it. Is that a problem? Not really, if you are aware of it and know what you're about to write, choose the music accordingly and gain depth, as music evokes stronger emotions in me which then are poured onto paper and support the vibe I want to transmit in the scene. Sometimes I even find myself crying while writing (usually when I kill someone off I like), and I still believe I owe these strong emotions to the power of music.
Unlike with fiction writing, I can listen to anything when blogging, as it is the least stressful, exhausting or daunting writing process of all my various processes. Here, I really pour out my heart on digital paper and simply write what I know, think or believe to be true. Every stroke in every sentence does not amount to so much perfection as with my professional and fictional writing, which is party why I am doing it. At the moment, as the Christmas pre-season is looming upon us, I am slowly getting into the Christmas vibe. Today I got my two Kate Rusby Christmas CDs to complete my collection (The Frost Is All Over and Sweet Bells) and I am also checking out other Christmas songs to decide which will go in the annual Christmas music collection (if you want to read on my previous blog post on Christmas music to get in the right mood, click here).
Writing, like any other creative process, is a subjective and individual process which needs to be adapted to perfection by each and everyone themselves. There is certainly no right or wrong way to do it, so switch on the music or leave it - I however will always come up with better stories if music accompanies me through life.
Writer. Editor. Blogger. YouTuber. Freelancer. Traveller. English fanatic.