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Writing + Music = Love

Music is awesome! Obviously. So is writing. And often, the former fuels the latter.
In fact, music is such a huge part of my writing process, I have to partially attribute the most cinematic parts of my books to the music that infused them with life.

I know many of you out there – even most of you! – listen to music as you write, or use it in some facet of the writing process. But just like our taste in music, the way we use music as a writing tool differs from person to person.

You compose a playlist for your WIPs.

This is how I roll. Playlists are one of the most important aspects of my writing routine. I compose a different one for every book, and add to it the whole time I'm drafting. I play it almost every time I sit down to write. The first song is the most important: it launches me inside my story universe. For Like Mandarin, that first song was "Fade into You" by Mazzy Star. For Wanderlove, it was "Let Go" by Frou Frou. For my third book, it's "Siren Song" by Bat for Lashes.

Some authors compose their books' playlists after they write them, which I find interesting. It's a chicken or the egg thing, I suppose – choosing songs to fit an existing book, or letting the music help define the story as it's written.

Songs for Scenes
You select songs for every major or emotional scene in your book.

I've done this a few times. Well, I haven't deliberately searched for scene-appropriate songs, but I've realized a song on my playlist fit a particular scene so perfectly, I played it on repeat the entire time I wrote, and again while I revised.

Songs for Characters
You select songs that define your most important characters.

Again, I don't do this on purpose, but songs from my book's playlists have inadvertently come to define particular characters. "World Sick" by Broken Social Scene will always make me think of Rowan from Wanderlove. (Also, it rocks.) And since I wrote it into the book, Prince's "Little Red Corvette" will always make me think of Mandarin from Like Mandarin.

Background Melodies
You can write to music, but only the kind without words.

Perfectly understandable. When I'm battling a scene, the kind of scene that snaps back with curvy teeth and won't let me grab hold of it, sometimes lyrics become a distraction. Then I usually play ambient rock or dream pop, like Explosions in the Sky, The Album Leaf, Sigur Ros (technically, they have lyrics, but they're in Icelandic) and Boards of Canada. Other writers listen to classical music, or  heavy instrumental rock.

The Sound of Silence
You can't write to music. AT ALL.

Also perfectly understandable. I find I often need silence when I'm on my third or fourth draft, since at that stage, revising involves more reading than writing.

How do you use music to help you write?
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. I'm the exact same way. I construct a playlist and have it playing almost constantly while writing. It's always growing and shifting. Just when I think I've nailed it down, another song sneaks in...

    Before writing, I pull out my acoustic guitar and strum out some of the more important songs to my story.

    Whenever I'm driving, I have the playlist blasting through the speakers of my Jeep.

    Basically, if I'm not drowning myself in the music and inspired my book, then I'm not really writing.

  2. I haven't yet created a playlist, but I might try it.

    My choices of music definitely vary from book to book. In my last WIP, I could only listen to one punk rock album (it wasn't a playlist, it was just a new album I happen to get my hands on before hand and voila!). I listened to the same twelve or so songs over and over as I wrote the entire book.

    Other times I've been able to listen to Pandora (although a few times I had to stop to skip a song, so that probably could have been more effective other ways), while still other times I wrote in silence.

    The one thing I noticed is that I can't listen to the radio while I'm writing. At all. The music doesn't bother me, but the ads and commentary in between yanks me out every time.

    I might try creating a playlist. That sounds like fun.

  3. I'm also one of those writers that composes a playlist as I write, and most of the time, certain songs end up being associated with a particular character or scene, or even sometimes a particular emotion found somewhere at some point in my WIP. But when I'm revising and, like you mentioned, doing more reading that writing, I usually opt for instrumentals (I adore movie scores for this) or no music at all.

    For some reason, the music habits of writers really interest me, haha. It's just one of those things, I guess. :)

  4. I'm somewhere between Background Melodies and The Sound of Silence.

    Usually my background melody is a lot of phones ringing and the other sounds of the people in my office.

  5. I have elaborate playlists, character songs, background music, atmospheric music and music to inspire me.

    Basically, if I didn't have music, I don't think I'd be much of a writer!

  6. I usually make a playlist, but I can't write and listen to it at the same time.

    I like to have a specific song for every WIP as well.

  7. I've written to music in the past, music that was specifically selected to put me in the right atmosphere for what I was writing.

    I don't much anymore, by now I usually need silence. Or background music, whatever's playing that I can't control (when I'm at work or in a café).

    But who knows, I might be tempted again... :)

  8. LOVED this post. I'm a scene and character music writer. I will play a song on repeat the whole time, too. For this revision it's Heavy in Your Arms by Florence + The Machine. I also have songs for characters and how they feel in particular scenes. Flyleaf's Again is perfect for my MC!

    Fantastic post!!

  9. I listen to the same song over and over til it becomes like background music. Now whenever I hear it on the radio I'm looking around for my laptop.

  10. samantha: what kind of movie scores do you listen to?

    jenna: me too. I think that's what works best about playing the same set of songs over and over -- you've memorized them, and so they don't pull you out of the storyworld.

    when I'm looking for new songs, I'll plug a few of my playlist's artists into pandora, but I can't listen to unfamiliar songs while I'm writing. I have to be doing something else. Usually wasting time on the internet.

  11. I've tried listening to music while I write, but I can't. I just tune it out. I figure why listen, if I'm not even hearing it?

    I do listen to music to get me in the mood for a certain type of story, or a certain scene. But I listen before I start writing, not while writing.

  12. I do all of those things except for being completely silent. I have to have music on and sometimes, it helps me to have earphones so that I can block out the world around me. Music is the best inspiration.

  13. I love silence at first, at least until I've gotten to know my story and characters better. Then I find/discover/stumble upon songs that work for them/the tone and listen on repeat.

    As far as finding music, another way is finding a song I love on youtube and checking out the suggestions on the sidebar. Sometimes there's something good there. :)

  14. Fun post! I've never made a playlist, although there are certain songs that will get me "in the mood" for some projects. But when I'm actually writing, I fall into either the "no lyrics/no English" or "silence" categories. Movie and orchestral scores are great, or string quartets, or solo piano. I found the soundtrack to an old movie about a children's choir in Nazi Germany, and every song is just creepy choral stuff and holy moses, it really hit the spot at the time.

  15. so i sort of fell in love with the post as soon as i read that you listened to bat for lashes. i love that band SO MUCH! i thought i was the only one.

    i don't make actual playlists, but sort of pick the song that matches the scene i'm writing.

  16. Great post Kirsten!

    I'm a total playlist girl, but I do it a little differently. Almost every book has been inspired by a singular song that just nailed it for me. THE DUFF was "I Can't Stay Away" by The Veronicas. SHUT OUT was "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTMARE was "Fences" by Paramore. Those songs might not remain the key song at all, but they sparked the fire.

    Then as I go, I end up making a long playlist. Anywhere from 30 to 100 songs. All the songs fit some part of the book. A character, a scene, a theme. Sometimes I find the PERFECT SONG in the middle of revisions, and I still add it. Then, once the book is totally done, I cut my long list down to 20 or less songs and put them in order, like a map of the book in music.

    I don't think I'd write if it weren't for music. It gives me the ideas and keeps me going. :-)

  17. aleeza: omg, I ADORE bat for lashes. her music pretty much served as half the soundtrack for my 3rd book. "daniel" became a scene song for me -- a scene that involves kissing and a lightning storm.
    (p.s. I hear she's coming out with a new album this year! *awaits*)

    kody, I was actually thinking of you when I mentioned composing playlists after you write the book, which is what I thought you did.

    I also whittle mine down to a shorter key list to share with people, since the actual 75-song playlists get a bit unwieldy!

  18. I make a playlist, and add to it the entire time I'm writing, and listen to it the entire time.

    Or if I get sick of the playlist I just turn on some GaGa and go. That works too.

  19. I can't write with music on. Rarely. I listen to music and then I write. Interesting how everybody is different though!

  20. I can write with music on BUT I just never seem to. I used to follow music (the Christian music scene, but whatever I put effort into it) and I spent time listening to bands, going to concerts, discovering music.

    Now I just don't feel like I have the energy for that anymore. I'd rather put that effort into reading anymore. The bands I like are the bands I liked in college--Rilo Kiley, Tilly and the Wall, music from the movie Once, a few odds and ends. The most I manage to do is create a pandora station and let it choose.


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Item Reviewed: Writing + Music = Love Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard