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Music While I Write

Updated on March 9, 2011

For some writers music is essential for getting those elusive creative juices flowing, for inducing the correct state of calmness to ensure optimum productivity.  For others it is a nuisance, a distraction, making it impossible for the mind to focus because of its inability to tune out the background noise; some people must work in silence.

I am somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.  If I am alone and writing I like to have some music playing, just to keep me company.  But I do not like to have the volume turned up too far because it can reduce my concentration to nil and I then experience severe mind wanderings.

Different kinds of writing can tolerate different kinds of music (I have deliberately said that it is the writing that does the tolerating, because it is the writing that dictates the mood, not me.) When I am writing a hub, which generally contains opinion and possibly a little factual information, I can listen to music with voices in it.  The radio is fine when I am hubbing, if it is a music show and not a chat show.  The BBC Radio 2 lunch time debates with Jeremy Vine will not do at all because I am too tempted to fume and rage, and to then abandon the writing completely in order to text or email my opinion in to the radio show.  Likewise, music that suits my voice too well cannot be listened to whilst writing is supposed to be in progress. Sometimes I cannot help but sing at the top of my voice.  Oh dear.  So I have to save my current favourites for non-writing time:

  • Keane
  • Michael Bublé (yes, Michael Bublé, deal with it!)
  • Adele
  • MUSE
  • Eliza Doolittle

All far too distracting, especially that last little lady, who not only forces me to sing, but also causes me to dance - I seriously doubt that there is anyone who can write and pogo around the kitchen at the same time.  Anything else should be safe for me to write along to, but I have to take care to not allow the music to colour my work.

When I am writing fiction I cannot listen to music with lyrics, so for me classical is the only option.  A classical radio station is no good at all because it has talking in between which I cannot tune out (ads for double glazing, central heating, incontinence pads, etc., very distracting) so CDs only.  But, not CDs of classical music from the movies.  Soundtracks from Superman, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, E.T. (John Williams's entire back catalogue in other words,) Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean are all just far too rousing and far too powerful.  I mean it is ridiculous when you are writing about a school girl with a bad bullying problem, and you suddenly feel an irrational urge to write an orc into the scene.  Well, fair enough, it might be nice for said orc, let's call him NarGlok, to come tripping around the corner and spot the bullies laying into your heroine, decide to intervene and rip the bullies' heads off.  Nicely done, certainly.  It would sort out your heroine's problem, no doubt about that.  The only thing is, NorGlok would be unlikely to stop at the bullies, and he would probably eat your heroine as well.  Well, that just would not do at all.

So, for me, it has to be classical music that does not create too vivid images, but only induces a creative mood.  I have only been able to find a limited selection of music that I find suitable for fiction writing.  I would appreciate more suggestions.

  • Debussey - perfect
  • Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (though sometimes this piece conjures images of sailing on calm seas, and might bring about a little touch of disconcerting sea sickness)
  • Something with classical guitar (I am sorry, I know this is vague, but I am not a connoisseur of classical music, and I am still trying to build up my collection)
You can listen to whatever you fancy.  But for me, music is powerful, and should be used carefully and responsibly.

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    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      It's strange how compelling the lyrics can be, in that way. All kinds of possibilities - maybe there's a hub there!

      Nice to meet you KRadke.

      Linda.

    • KRadke profile image

      KRadke 6 years ago from New England

      "I mean it is ridiculous when you are writing about a school girl with a bad bullying problem, and you suddenly feel an irrational urge to write an orc into the scene." - That made me laugh.

      I personally do not write with lyrics in songs because I start using the words of the song in the text and that usually does not work out... :D

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Oh thank you Tweetmom. They're beautiful aren't they? I am one of those people who thinks they should have been a very talented musician, if they'd ever taken the time to learn an instrument properly! What's that character's name, from 'Pride and Prejudice'? Oh, Lady Catherine De Burgh, who says 'if I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient'. That's me, lol, all words and no action!

      Nice to meet you Tweetmom :)

      Linda.

    • Tweetmom profile image

      Tweetmom 6 years ago from Newark

      love all those images that you inserted. It portrays your passion towards the music and the composition of it. truly Lovely.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      I'm a big fan of everything that I love :) I don't really do 'like just a little bit'; I do 'love to distraction, and use pictures as laptop wallpaper, and buy the stickers and the t-shirt and the mug and look up on internet constantly' which gradually settles down into something more healthy and less sinisterly stalkerish.

      I can do my 10 favourite Beatles songs for ya. I'll just go and listen to some first, before I make my final decision :D Yes, probably an extra hub needed, so that I can list my reasons for my choices!

      Oh, but that hub might have to wait, as I'm currently working on something about pirates, which I'm very excited about :D

      Enjoy your well-earned sleep my friend.

      Linda.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ..good idea about You Tube - I swear by it - one of the modern wonders of the world - when in doubt - type in a name and usually something always comes up - especially with the music genre - not only do you get to hear the music - you get to see it as well ! I'm winding down here at 6:54am - so there goes my morning - lol lol - have a good afternoon and I hear that you're a big Beatles fan - please indulge me with your top ten favorite songs - or could that be a hub in the making ??

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Like the playlist - I just looked them all up on YouTube, and liked them all (I'd heard of Billie Holiday of course!) I think I should get some jazz, give it a chance. I already have Billie Holiday - and thanks for reminding me about her; I'll pop her on my writing playlist :)

      Well, I am returning that compliment to you epi, for it is your comments that always make my day (almost afternoon here now - the morning has slipped away from me, as it always does), so flattering and buoying as they are. I'm glad to have you as a colleague and friend too :) (Colleague, I like that - I'd never thought of hubbers as colleagues, but of course, that is what they are.)

      Linda.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ..and yes your comments always make my morning - thanks so much for that - and being in my life as a respected colleague and friend!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ..personally I love the way you write and so do many others and that's all that matters - you are unique and you are special - and that's a sincere compliment - playlist since I've come home and drank some red wine and ate some pizza, ah the life of a bachelor - lol

      1. Donald Byrd/Hank Mobley - hard bop jazz

      2. Iron Butterfly - IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA

      3. Billie Holiday's greatest hits

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Ha ha! What, you mean like mine are the first words ever written, and everyone else must learn from my shocking mistakes and use me as an example of how not to write, unless they want to become proficient in the art of nonsense? Yes, you're probably right ;D

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ...well actually now that you mentioned it .... you're worth a 5th time - because you write like you invented it!

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      You wee charmer you, epi :D What a treat for you to comment on one hub four times! I am truly honoured my friend.

      I shall get to reading your new hubs immediately!

      Linda.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ....just returned from posting a new one while listening to some hot jazz around 5:00 am (after returning home from work) to say this is STILL one of my favorite hub subjects of all time - as I am hyper sensitive to all kinds of music in relation to moods and what I may or may not be doing - lol lol - and I always return to the classics - and classic is this hub - and of course - your writing and your charm!

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Thank you Docmo :)

      Ooh, I would love to see Michael Buble in concert. And Adele actually. I have recently been listening to my old Guns 'n' Roses albums, but they don't really convey the right mood for writing!!!

      Linda.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 6 years ago from UK

      OMG all those on your playlist happen to be on mine too- in fact I recently posted a hub with a Michael Buble video tagged on - We've been to all his concerts! And I am still reeling from the amazing vocals of Adele in 'Someone like you'... I too love music while writing. voted up!

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Yes, I think we like much of the same music don't we? Even modern stuff, our tastes are similar. Although, I don't like Northern Soul as much as you do - I find that dancing a little bit scary!

    • queenpoetica profile image

      queenpoetica 6 years ago from England

      Mm, I have to have the music or radio voices at just the right level, almost turned off, but just enough to be heard, otherwise I join in, sing, argue, dance. I would say that we are quite similar in music while we write. I write best with instrumental music, that way I'm not tempted to join in in any way - well apart from the odd hum!

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Lol, thank you my friend :)

      I am now going to listen to the sound of my own breathing as I try to go to sleep.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ..did I say that I love this hub .... well I'll say it again!!!!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ...yes that's right - I just checked it out myself right now on You Tube - if you go to You Tube and type in John Cage ... you will find it!

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Why thank you so much epi. The things you say about my hubs, I really do blush :D

      The sound of silence is sometimes so stimulating, it really is. Silence in my house is not so nice - it sounds of traffic and buzzing electrical appliances on standby. But the perfectest kind of silence is readily available not too far from here, by the river, or in the hills, or by the sea. Plenty of good and loud silence to be had there.

      I love to listen to all kinds of music too epi. I have a soft spot for music from the 70s, but that's only when I'm in the mood for dancing. I love to listen to Big Band music from the 40s particularly, and to Swing, maybe a little Rhythm and Blues which is not the same as R'n'B, or some gentle jazz. Truthfully, I don't really mind what the genre is, and often I don't even categorize in my mind, just so long as it makes me feel... good.

      Glad you liked my hub - I hadn't expected it to attract much attention, since I just wrote it in one of those 'I think I'll just tell my fellow hubbers what I think about this' sort of moments.

      Linda.

      4:33, seriously? Do you think it's available on iTunes?!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ....well you say you are not a poet but I beg to differ I really think you write very poetically - not to mention like a force of nature .....

      and yes I absolutely adore your writing anyway but really really love this hub subject - I consider myself the master musicologist in residence here at the Hub - lol lol - and I always start my day with a little light classical music - nothing too dramatic or obtrusive - and certainly not rock and roll - lol lol - I love ironies and choices and I live so quietly here by Lake Erie (my mum used say to me -listen, you can hear the silence!) but I am the loud music delinquent in my neighborhood - lol lol - and often when I come home in the morning after night shift I am playing something incredibly loud with a few beers and when I go online I turn it down and listen to some smooth jazz when writing and composing - often that is when I post a new piece after working on it at work - lol lol - so there is a little insight for you - my musical tastes are very eclectic and reflect my moods and the time of day or night and being a creature of my environment I often just sit quietly (as I am doing now) and 'listen to the silence') John Cage even listened to the silence and composed 4:33 which is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence! Love this hub - you really got me going with this one!!!!!

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Well, sometimes we like to be hindered and distracted :) I put music on sometimes purposely because I know that it will stop me from working.

      Linda.

    • michael ely profile image

      michael ely 6 years ago from Scotland

      Good stuff here Linda. Well written and i can totally understand where you are coming from as i tend to have some sort of music on all the time. Sometimes it helps me concentrate, sometimes it hinders. But i always put some on anyway.

      Michael.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      I presume you've tried iTunes? Or some other such music download site? Sounds very interesting does that piece of music. I like churchy music, though I have no religion - I've always like visiting churches and listening to choirs. Very calming. Yes, probably perfect for writing.

      Linda.

    • ZozieM profile image

      ZozieM 6 years ago from London, UK

      I used to have a wonderful mass setting - complete with an alto-sax jazzing over the religious melodies giving a nice chilled out vibe, whilst the contrasts neutralised the churchiness. Perfect for writing to. Trouble is that a) I have no idea where it is now, and b) it's on cassette, and I no longer have a tape player!

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Michael Bubbly is one of my favourites, and I'm always proud to say so, AH :) His music makes me dance and sing like a nutter. We often play him at tea time, and the kids all sing along while they're eating - makes a terrible mess, but it's fun.

      Linda.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Thank you Genna. I don't write poetry, but I did wonder whether the influence of music might be even greater for poets. I think I have this image in my mind of poets scribbling finished pieces in the time it takes for a 3 minute song to play - but I think that that image is probably very inaccurate!

      Linda.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I agree with you about the music, and being "somewhere in between." If I write poetry that rhymes, I often already have a melody running around in my head somewhere. Music does set a feel and a tempo as well when writing, and can be a distraction depending on what you are writing about. Excellent hub!

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

      No music is out, but i love Michael bubbly jubbly's music too, so you're not the only nutter in town.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Maybe it doesn't matter what music you have on in the background Prophet, maybe I'm just too fussy! Maybe it's me who needs to learn to tune out sounds that are not helpful.

      Linda.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 6 years ago

      I remember back in school I could never study mathematics without music playing in the background! I've never paid much attention to what music works for me when I'm writing - perhaps it's time to do so! :)

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Cheers pal, I'll give those a try. Firing up iTunes right now.

      Music can be a total distraction, it's true.

      Linda.

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Go for the Beethoven Symphony No. 6 'The Pastoral'. If that doesn't get your literary juices flowing, I don't know what would. It has every mood so beautifully laid before you.

      I personally have trouble listening to music (especially Opera) because I get so involved, but Beethoven or the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Oh, those sounds you describe are delicious Darski, the Earth moving... lovely :) Yes, I had forgotten how much I like to write outside (because it's so cold here still, and I've been stuck inside for months!)

      Thank you Darski.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Hello my friend Lady, you are such a great writer. I am impressed very much with your style, and this hub is really true, right on. I am one of those people whom needs silence. I love to hear sounds of the Earth moving, trees blowing, birds chirping, nice sounds. Yet, I like to take my laptop into a coffee house and this give me so much energy. rate this up up love & peace, darski

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Calm and peaceful is key for me too, even when I'm writing something pacey or confrontational. Thanks for reading my little hub :)

      Linda.

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 6 years ago

      Lady , Yes yes yes, Calm and peaceful , the mood has to be calm and easy , piano , guitar , the simpler the better! Great write.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image
      Author

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Thank you crystolite. Actually I enjoyed finding the photos more than anything else :)

      Linda.

    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 6 years ago from Houston TX

      Nice experience you shared here. I hope you developed a lot of joy from it.