Writing and Music

by Erin Roll

“What kind of music do you listen to while you’re writing?”

I find that this sort of question tends to get a rather strong reaction from some of my writing friends. Not to mention a varied response. Some people tell me, “I need dead silence when I write.” Or, “I like music in the background, but nothing with lyrics.”

I love music – I always have. For me, it’s not background noise – rather, it’s something to get my neurons fired up. Maybe it’s because music also helps me imagine things better.

For me, what music I listen to while writing depends a lot on what sort of writing I’m doing.
When I was an undergrad, I could listen to prog rock or 80s hair band metal while working on my term papers. These days, I tend to favor classical music as my academic paper music.

When I was working on my thesis for Montclair State University, there were two albums in particular that I listened to: “Seven: A Suite for Orchestra” and “Six Pieces for Orchestra.” Both of them are classical side projects by Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks; there are a lot of influences from Ravel, Holst and Vaughan Williams. And I find that “City of Gold,” the final piece on “Six,” is good for getting me in the mindset of “come on, you can do this, this infernal paper is almost done.”

I fear that I may forever see the stacks in the Sprague Library in front of me whenever I listen to either of those albums from here on out, but there you go.

For fiction, as with academic writing, it again depends a great deal on what I’m working on.
One of my ongoing projects is a steampunk novel set in an alternate-universe Ireland. When I’m working on that, I tend to favor one of two types of music. One type is Irish traditional; I especially like Clannad and Altan. The other type is my long and nebulous “sci-fi” playlist on my iPod. This encompasses pretty much everything from prog rock to 80s pop; bonus points if it’s a song that has something to do with flying.

If I’m working on something that’s more of a mystery or thriller, I don’t yet have a hard-and-fast playlist. But any song that sounds suitably “mysterious” will do. Something like “Planet of New Orleans” by Dire Straits or “Dreaming While You Sleep” by Genesis. Jazz or blues will also do nicely, or any song that sounds as if it may have come from a spy movie or cop show.

This is something that works for me, but not necessarily something that will work for another author. It all depends on your writing style, your attention span and your taste in music.

Whatever you choose, though, may your writing and your music be sweet and tuneful.

4 Replies to “Writing and Music”

    • Catherine Mascis


      This website helps if you are easily distracted and wanted to block out the world around you while you write. There is a tutorial on how the website link works on YouTube.

  1. Rose Blessing

    Interesting to hear how you work! Most of the music I love comes down to stories in songs, some from popular artists but often country music or folk songs, and, to my family’s amusement, children’s songs. Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, Pete Seeger, even Burl Ives. These inspire me emotionally and verbally and help me counteract the side effects of a sedentary writer’s life (gotta dance and sing along sometimes!) But to actually sit down and write after all this inspiration . . . Music off! Silence required so I can hear my own words properly in my mind!

    • Jacqueline Stearns

      I love all genres of music! broadway, country, folk, blues, jazz, fifties and sixties rock and roll. It depends upon the mood of the piece I am working on.


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