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Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Writing with Music

Writing with Music

When I originally started writing seriously, I never suspected that I would end up listening to music nearly every time I wrote.

I wrote in whatever place I sat, with whatever computer, and whatever sound happened to be going on. If music was playing in the background, that was fine; I would ignore it. If dogs were barking in the background, that was fine; I would ignore it. If people were talking in the background, that was also fine.

I did an impressive amount of ignoring in those days.

Yet, at the same time, my family listened to a lot of music as we went about life. One song in particular stood out to me on day: Walk On, by 4Him, from their album of the same name. [You can listen to it here, if you’d like. The pictures are completely disconnected, but this is the only video of it that I could find.] One day, as I listened to it, it clicked with my major work-in-progress, and I had an unofficial theme song.

From that moment on, I had an “IOTW Playlist” on my computer. At first, I listened to it only occasionally, but slowly as time went on, I started to listen to it more and more.

In April, when I started a new story for Camp NaNoWriMo, I had reached the point where I listened to music very regularly when I wrote, so between that and the fact that I expected to write in unusual places for half the month and needed a familiar noise, I created a “Joy of Stars Playlist.”

It was at that point that I learned the power of listening to music while I wrote.

When before I had listened to only music that had reminded me of the plot and the story itself, this time I stopped and considered the question: What would my characters listen to? 

Thinking about the question not only led me to adding great music to my playlist, but it made the characters I was really only beginning to meet much more alive to me.

Headphones became an essential part of writing for me. I started to listen to music every time I wrote, and found that it helped me massively.

No matter where I was, when I heard the music, I could write the story. The songs automatically made me think of the story. The characters became a part of the song, and the songs a part of the characters. The songs added another, deeper level to the character arcs as I started to actually listen to the lyrics and realize, “Wow. This really fits the character, actually.”

I could assign music to characters and groups of characters, and immediately step into their head and point of view. On my Joy of Stars playlist, I had very distinctive music on there. From John Waller to Cloverton to Avalon, and then all the way to the soundtrack of Princess Bride, the styles, though mainly contemporary Christian, all had very different feel to them, which helped me to give very a different feel to each character.

It helped me manipulate my own emotions. Because, really, that’s what we writers do. We want our readers to feel things, but when we don’t, they won’t. When we feel the things that our characters do, we can write from their perspective so much better. When we can change what we feel, we can make it so that the character’s emotions come across strong.

It drowned out other noises and distractions and helped me to avoid Writer’s Block. Distractions are distracting–imagine that! But when writing sometimes, it seems like every noise that’s tossed about is screaming for attention. “No, you don’t want to write that novel! You want to look at me! Meee!” Music is a great way to tell the distraction to go find a corner to sit in, because you’re busy.

Things change, though. Now, I don’t always listen to music while writing. For the past several months, I’ve listened to it every single time, but more recently, I’ve gone some writing sessions without it.

I’ve found that it’s not necessary to listen to music to write, and now I have seen both sides of the story and experienced both methods. Music isn’t necessary, but I certainly do appreciate it.

Do you write with music, or without? How have you found it helpful or unhelpful?

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15 thoughts on “Writing with Music

  1. Sometimes I do. I listened to the AVengers theme song a lot while I was writing the heroic part of my novel. I totally get what you’re talking about with the characters and songs. I’m going to have to try that now. 😉

  2. I usually listen to music when I write. I listen to LOTR if I’m writing fantasy, National Treasure if I’m writing a scene that fits with the music, sometimes contemporary Christian, and sometimes Narnia. Music does help writer’s block go away and inspires me…but…if the wrong music is on, the scene goes all wrong.

    • Agreed. Listening to wrong music completely distracts me, which is why I like to start setting up songs before I actually start the writing, and then if I write for a long time, add songs and take some songs away to fit with the part of the story I’m writing. Do you ever assign songs to your characters?

  3. Good thoughts. I don’t listen go music, really. I’ve been not writing for a while and really need to get back to it. 😦

    I’ve nominated you for the sunshine award.

    • If you’re looking for good writing music without words, you could look into John Tesh. He has some very good wordless music that I would suggest, if you’re interested in trying out writing with music. 🙂 Ah, well. We all have moments where life gets in the way of our writing.

      Thank you! 🙂

  4. Wow, that’s an intriguing idea! I’ve seen writers exult in finding The Perfect Song for their characters or story, but I’ve never shared that delight because I don’t look for music for my characters or stories.

    Yes, I write to music. I open Pandora and let it play while I write. Mostly it’s to fill in the background of what’s often a quiet basement. Now, however, you make me want to find book-appropriate music and see if it helps turn on the creative juices . . .

    And I never, in a million years, would have thought about listening to my characters’ music. Wow. Not sure I can do that with this book, unless medieval teenagers had iPods, but it’s an idea very worthy of consideration for other books. What a great way to connect with characters!

    • I’ve never searched for songs for my characters, but occasionally when I’m listening to the radio a song will come on and I’ll think, “That really makes me think of [Name].”

      Medieval teenagers with iPods… Heh. That sounds like either the biggest continuity error, or the start of an excellent story idea. Oftentimes I’ll listen to music that makes me think of the personality of the characters or their hometown if the character doesn’t listen to music often.

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  6. When I did Nano, I turned on The Hobbit soundtrack as well as various Zelda pieces, mainly just to help me zone in to what I was doing. Now, it turns out that nearly all my favorite songs “belong” to certain characters. Some are word-for-word perfect, while others are filled with vague reminders. I actually have a character who is based on a song. 😀

    • Music while writing is especially helpful during NaNo, for that very reason. When you must get a certain amount of words done, it’s incredibly helpful to have something to help you zone in.

      Yes. Nearly all of my favorite songs belong to characters, too… Sometimes I wonder how I even had favorite songs before I had characters. :p What song is it? Once the song “Flood” by Jars of Clay came on, and a character, setting, and backstory spread out before me in those three or so minutes while the song was playing.

      • 😀 I’ve loved Jars of Clay and their song “Flood” since I was really little. I have fond memories of belting “lift me up!” from the back of the car. 😀
        It’s an 80s song by Corey Hart called “Sunglasses at Night.” A band I like did a cover of it. I was struggling to characterize a villain from a vague idea I was messing with. All of a sudden, he was begging to be sympathetic, and, quite by accident, I had connected him with this song. Now, he’s another person entirely. 😛

        • Heh. Me, too. 🙂 I always liked that song, and it had been one I knew for so long, so it took me totally by surprise when it ended up inspiring me. I don’t know the song… I’ll have to look it up. Sympathetic villains are always interesting, and quite often exceptional.

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