Music to Write To

I explore the impact of music on my writing, and talk about my iTunes playlist, and setting it up so can easily having writing music playlists.

I’m always on a quest for the perfect playlist to write to – but damn it the writing music keeps changing.

I love poetry and writing, and their sibling the song is no different (storytelling is the parent to me), they’re all capable of evoking something within us. Sometimes they evoke the writer within, helping to unlock my core creativity.

I find that what music I’m listening to affects what I’m writing, I noticed this during last year’s NaNoWriMo, I was in one of those places where I was banging out a few hundred words an hour, and actually progressing towards target. When I read back over my words, there was a pattern, I’d had Pachelbel’s Canon in D on repeat, (equally a crap and great piece of music in one – perfect writing music though),  my writing had taken on that structure, from number of words per sentence,  to roughly where the capitals were placed, and as I read it through, you could kind of feel Canon behind it. You have to be careful though, I would imagine if you’re half way through  a 75,000 word novel, and feel of the writing suddenly changes, that’s going to make it seem disjointed.

I am capable of reading one thing and writing another at the same time, however my writing speed is slower, and obviously what I’m writing won’t get the 90% attention it deserves (I’ve tested myself it is impossible for me to give 100% attention to one thing at a time), and bits and pieces of what I’m reading drift into my output, which while probably not plagiarism in the legal sense (it’s often a word or phrase rather than anything more), it still makes me uncomfortable – I am naive enough to believe I can have an original thought. So that rules out reading a story or poetry, which leaves song, and music.

Ideally writing music shouldn’t be screaming for attention, nor should it be so quiet or soft that you strain to hear it, it can’t be fast, but slow is okay, common instruments, but too many exotic sounds are bad.

So in terms of sound, we’re looking mostly for a middle of the road song, ruling out much heavy metal, rock, pop, rap, and jazz. However we still have millions of tracks left.

Next prerequisite lies in the lyrics, it shouldn’t be especially heavy emotionally, but it needs to have some emotion, somber, light comedy, romantic, innuendo, peace, and nostalgic are good emotions and subjects when not overpowering.

There are always some exceptions to this rule, for instance Muse are a perennial favourite, however Muse are balanced by another perennial, Dido. I’m constantly recreating playlists to maximise my writing.

At the moment for instance I’m clearing up my iTunes playlist, it’s both massive and unwieldy. So far I’ve deleted over two days of music that I don’t listen to (including many from my prized collection of House of the Rising Sun covers – which was painful and necessary, I still love that song, but not as much as I used to when I loved that many covers of it). All my songs are now rated two to four stars (anything one star gets the boot. Still, I’ve far to go, I need to ensure all songs are labeled properly, have proper albums listed, and that the genre’s are correct and not random or over specific. Then next, and to my mind most arduous task is to use the comments field to add tags to my music to make it easier faster to search for music for specific reasons. Lastly the fun part creating my playlists, designing them to be distinct, and to match my moods, ensuring a good range of selection, so my music gets a good airing – and to be for activities such as writing. Thus my iTunes list will work for me and empower my creativity. It’s a good plan, but far to go.

What I’m going to do each month is create a new writing playlist of between ten and twenty songs, and post it here with some notes. I’ll be in a constant revision, and reinvention of writing music, but it stops it being samey, which wouldn’t help help my writing.

So here is my first choice for ten, this is for May 2009:

  1. All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
  2. Pruit Igoe & Prophecies – The Philip Glass Ensemble
  3. From a Mountain In the Middle of the Cabins – Panic At The Disco
  4. Tuesday Afternoon – The Moody Blues
  5. Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Greenday
  6. Knights of Cydonia(Muse cover)  – Vitamin String Quartet
  7. Lake and Fire – Lusk
  8. Katie Cruel – Katie Dalton
  9. Fear of the Dark (Iron Maiden cover) – Demônios Da Garoa
  10. The Heart Asks Pleasure First – Michael Nyman

The list is in no particular order – I’m neither rating nor ranking the music, anything on these lists is automatically ranked as writing music.  You might ask why just ten? Well I mentioned before how the music I’m listening to affects what I write, well having a shorter list, with music that repeats fairly regularly gives a general pattern to my writing. There’s not enough changes to make it seem very random (which would be messy), and not so little that it’s stuck in the same tempo, rhythm, or structure for so long it’s drilling into the readers head, and has them thinking about music instead of my words.

Feel free to comment with your own ideas for the perfect writing music, I’m always on the look out for more.

Author: jllegend

Aye, there's the rub. Difficult to sum up succinctly. Crazy, most definitely. Funny, hopefully. Lovely, certainly. Interesting, essentially.

One thought on “Music to Write To”

  1. My friend asked me why I was cnyrig as we sat in our seats at the finish line of this year’s marathon. It never fails when I watch the marathon, I get super emotional. There is something about people working SO hard to achieve this major accomplishment that really gets me. It’s amazing.In the same vain, watching Barak Obama give his acceptance speech the other night was a moment that I will always remember and cherish. I remember watching him at the DNC not too long ago and thinking, He is going to be president one day . I had NO IDEA it would be this soon and cannot believe what he has managed to accomplish. I am in awe of his steadfastness, his spirit and his unshakeability (new word . What an amazing week!


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