Reasons To Compile a Writing Playlist (even if you write in silence)

Illustration provided by Cécile Graat and freeimages.

Illustration provided by Cécile Graat and freeimages.com.

Do you write with music in background or do you need quiet? Even if silence is your thing, that doesn’t mean you can’t compile a playlist for your projects.

I don’t usually listen to music while I’m writing, but there are times when I will immerse myself into a playlist before I begin the day’s writing session. I create playlists during the planning stage of a project. I do this for three reasons. It helps me set the tone or atmosphere of the story and scenes. It helps me get to know my characters better and it often helps with pacing.

Atmosphere or Mood

Movies use music to lead viewers. If done right, the music becomes another character. Think of the theme to Jaws, that iconic dundun alerts us to danger. A well-written film score uses everything from melodies to crashing symbols to help us understand the emotion beneath the performances.

You can do the same thing for your novel, short story or even a poem.

When I wrote The Widows of Wyatt Abney I had multiple playlists. For scenes with the antagonist, I listened to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins. The tone of that double CD set conveyed the relationship between her and the protagonist. It’s dark and edgy.

The relationship between my protagonist and Wyatt required a playlist that included songs representing their rhythm, their thoughts and their actions. Some fit lyrically, some musically.

Illustration provided by Cécile Graat and freeimages.com.

Illustration provided by Cécile Graat and freeimages.com.

Character & Setting Development

Have you heard the song 93 Million Miles by Jason Mraz? I love everything about it—the lyrics, the music—I think of my parents when I hear it. I’m sure you have a song or two that reminds you of someone no matter where or when you hear it.

Many authors interview their characters in order to get to know them better. I suggest you learn what kind of music they like as well. It won’t come easy, but find a way to have your lead character reveal his or her favorite song to you and then discover why it appeals to them.

A person’s culture has a huge effect on their musical preferences. Listening to music from cultures other than your own could go a long way in establishing the setting of your story. Whether it takes place in a foreign land or your character is a foreigner bringing his cultural preferences to a new land.

Pacing

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Illustration provided by Cécile Graat and freeimages.com.

Different musical genres, tempos and specific instruments help to pace scenes. Upbeat music for action scenes. Guitar or piano heavy songs for emotional scenes. Having an array of beats keeps the pace from stagnating and creates a rhythm similar to real life. Ups and downs.

One of the short stories I wrote for a creative writing class opened with the main character relaxing in the tub. She’s tired and reflecting on her day. The song that inspired the scene and I went back to over and over again was a blues tune by St. Louis Jimmy. The unhurried rhythm of the music helped me write mid to long sentences which in turn set the pace for that scene.

The song Thunderstruck by ACDC would be good inspiration for an argument. It gives off a vibe of something trying to escape and it eventually does. Perfect for the tension between two people disagreeing. Incendiary remarks followed by unrestrained insults.

There are many reasons to make music a part of your writing routine. You don’t have to write to music, but having a song or list of songs in your mind as you write could open the door to possibilities you hadn’t expected.

Remember, a playlist is a tool. What you might find emotional or aggressive could make someone else feel nothing. As long as you use the tool to bring something out of you and put it on the page that’s all that matters.

  • I can’t listen to music while I’m writing….I get into the tunes and become distracted. I do jam when outlining or editing. In my first novel, music helps set the mood in a big way…There are tons of music references throughout the book, and, really, is as much about the main character’s (and my) lifelong love affair with music…..Great post!!

    • Thanks, Lawrence. Nearly all of my writing has music references. It’s a big part of my life.

      • Mine too….I am SO missing not being in a band right now…..

        • I hear ya! I sang for years and studied to be a recording engineer. That was a different life.

  • Briane Pagel

    I listen to music a lot when I write. I used to have specific playlists for books, too. My book ‘the After’ has a playlist heavy on songs with mystical themes or about death and sadness — because, as you said, it helps set the mood.

    Lately, when I’ve been writing my more speculative stuff, I’ve been listening to Polly Scattergood. For literary things with some heft, I go with The Lumineers.

    • I love The Lumineers, but never considered them for literary or heavy themed works. It’s weird how we perceive things differently.

  • Briane Pagel

    I listen to music a lot when I write. I used to have specific playlists for books, too. My book ‘the After’ has a playlist heavy on songs with mystical themes or about death and sadness — because, as you said, it helps set the mood.

    Lately, when I’ve been writing my more speculative stuff, I’ve been listening to Polly Scattergood. For literary things with some heft, I go with The Lumineers.

    • I can’t listen to music while I’m writing….I get into the tunes and become distracted. I do jam when outlining or editing. In my first novel, music helps set the mood in a big way…There are tons of music references throughout the book, and, really, is as much about the main character’s (and my) lifelong love affair with music…..Great post!!

      • Thanks, Lawrence. Nearly all of my writing has music references. It’s a big part of my life.

        • Mine too….I am SO missing not being in a band right now…..

          • I hear ya! I sang for years and studied to be a recording engineer. That was a different life.

    • I love The Lumineers, but never considered them for literary or heavy themed works. It’s weird how we perceive things differently.

  • I agree with this! Like you, I write in silence, but for at least two of my projects I’ve used music to help inspire me, get me in the mood, and sometimes spark new ideas for character and plot. It’s a great tool!

    • That’s great! You don’t need to listen to music AS you write, but having it in your mind or riding the wave of emotion it creates inside you is a great tool.

  • I agree with this! Like you, I write in silence, but for at least two of my projects I’ve used music to help inspire me, get me in the mood, and sometimes spark new ideas for character and plot. It’s a great tool!

    • That’s great! You don’t need to listen to music AS you write, but having it in your mind or riding the wave of emotion it creates inside you is a great tool.

  • mooderino

    I use music to block out other noise so it tends to be instrumental stuff that doesn’t distract me too much. If I listen to new music I end up focusing on it too much.

    mood
    Moody Writing

    • I find it easy to block out noise. I don’t usually listen to music while writing, but having it in my head really helps with the tempo and mood of the scenes I’m working on. That’s why I like playlists. I can mentally pull them into the work.

  • mooderino

    I use music to block out other noise so it tends to be instrumental stuff that doesn’t distract me too much. If I listen to new music I end up focusing on it too much.

    mood
    Moody Writing

    • I find it easy to block out noise. I don’t usually listen to music while writing, but having it in my head really helps with the tempo and mood of the scenes I’m working on. That’s why I like playlists. I can mentally pull them into the work.