There are some writers who can work in total silence. I have never been one of them. I don’t understand them and I don’t associate with their kind. I’ve always been at my most creative when my auditory senses are engaged.
Not just any sound will do. I’m a well-known eavesdropper — it’s where I get all my best dialogue — so if there’s a conversation within earshot, my attention jumps right to it. It drags my focus from what I’m supposed to be doing, so I try to avoid places where people talk too loudly. I prefer a quiet background hum of activity. Indistinct talking happening too far away to be discerned. Coffee shops are ideal for this kind of experience, unless you get that one person in line who has no volume control. That’s when I switch to Coffitivity, a website that streams perfect coffee shop chatter.
Coffivity is great for when I just need to shut things out, but when I need inspiration, I need music. Again, not just any music. I have to stay away from anything with words or lyrics, because I’m easily distracted and tend to start typing the words I’m hearing. So, when I need to get serious writing done, I go instrumental.
Bluegrass is my go-to for light background music. It’s great for writing descriptions of scenery and tactile observations and I’ve found the back and forth of banjos and mandolins has always suggested witty dialogue.
When things take a turn for the dramatic, I put on the Film Soundtracks station on my Pandora app or find a particular soundtrack on YouTube. Strangely, I find that it works best when I don’t know the film the music is from and have no preconceived idea of what story is driving the music. The soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans has saved me from countess spells of writer’s block and I have yet to watch it. The only exceptions are the Star Trek movie soundtracks because they are awesome.
When it comes to writing to music, the mood has to be just right. Your subconscious picks it up and translates the sounds and emotions into plots and characters. If you’re writing a tense scene, you want to have high intensity music blaring in your headphones. If a scene is romantic, you can’t be writing to heavy metal (in less that’s the kind of mood you want to convey in which case more power to you). With the right melody, the words just flow.
What music do you use when you’re writing? Or does music totally throw off your creative groove? Let me know in the comments.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer and air fiddler in Tacoma, WA. You can find his unfiltered rambling on Twitter. Thanks for reading!