A Novel Soundtrack: Writing to Music

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Do you write with music in the background or do you prefer quiet?

As I’ve worked on my current novel, I’ve made playlists to help me with certain aspects. For example, there is a scene that is violent – a young girl is attacked by two men. I listened to Mad Season’s Above. The tone of the entire CD fit the scene and I whipped it out with no interruptions.

For the teenage couple, I created a playlist that included songs that have a mushy and somewhat intense vibe. However, when it came time to put something together for the adult couple I chose upbeat and playful songs. Both playlists helped me write scenes. They allowed me to immerse myself into a feeling and it shows on the page.

I’ve been struggling with the final scenes leading to the climax. Not because I don’t know what I want to happen but because I can’t find the right mood. So, I put together a playlist. It includes music by Kings of Leon, Mumford and Sons, KT Tunstall, Norah Jones, and Smashing Pumpkins. It’s created a surreal mood for me to immerse myself. Exactly what I needed.

Music is a huge part of my novel anyway. It seems natural to write with it in the background.

Do you create playlists to write to and if so, what are they like?

  • I use music to push away other sounds, to create a writing bubble. That means listening to music without too many emotional hooks and rifs, so instrumentals, Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, Lunatic Soul etc. Editing is another matter, Foo Fighters or Nirvana for me! Somewhere saw a comment from you about Scrivener, which I use too and really love its ability to cope with my random and over-excitable research methods!

    • Hi Jake! I read to instrumentals and movie soundtracks so I’m not distracted by lyrics. Doesn’t seem to bother me when I’m writing though.

      I love Scrivener, though for some it is difficult to get the hang of. I love being able to pull in a web page for my research; it makes it easy to refer back to when something slips your mind.

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope you’ll return often.

  • Jo-Ann Carson

    Hi Missy
    A thought provoking post.
    I like the idea of writing to music, but to get it organized would take time I don’t have (at least at the moment). I wish I could find some writer friendly themed music. That would be awesome.
    I’m happy for you though,that you have it organized. And I imagine it helps with the whole creative process.
    Happy Writing
    Jo-Ann

    • I do the same. My latest WIP is more fantasy/action paced and I’m finding Within Temptation has every song I need to write to. Like you said, it helps you whip up a scene and draws out particular feelings that may not otherwise be addressed without the intensity of a musical background highlighting it. Good post!

      • Thanks, Janet! I’m not opposed to writing in the quiet, and I often do. Sometimes I need that extra push to get the intensity and emotional pull of the scenes just right.

      • I’ve used a soundtrack for most every manuscript I’ve written, though there are times when I need the quiet to absorb what’s going on emotionally within the story. While writing my debut novel, Castaway Hearts, I used the majority of songs from The Ben Taylor Band album, Famous Among the Barns. While writing my heroine who was a country singer, I used a lot of country music. Another story I wrote listening mostly to Maroon 5 and Sara Bareilles.

        Currently, the WIP playlist includes Ben Taylor, James Taylor, Saving Abel, Shinedown, Jewel, Heart, Safetysuit, Flyleaf, Arcade Fire and a little Billy Joel.

        I generally pick music before I even begin a work, though sometimes mid-story I have to change it up if what I imagined wasn’t quite working. My gut instinct usually works though, as I pick music that “feels” like my characters, or what they might listen to, or songs that would move the stories along so that the words flow onto the page/screen. It’s truly like hearing the soundtrack to the movie that’s playing in my head.

        Great post Missy!

        • Thanks, Taryn!

          I’m an emotional person, not just weepy, all my emotions are easily accessed. I’ve been told I have a dry personality though. Some folks can’t read me. 🙂 I use playlists to channel the characters emotions.

    • Jo-Ann, try some movie soundtracks. They provide mood music from whimsical to daunting.