Music while you write: a guide

What to use to drown out writer's block...


Almost everyone I know writes to music. I'm one of the few weirdos out there who *usually* doesn't. For whatever reason, I typically prefer crushing silence or simply the sounds of nature to accompany the clicks of my keyboard.

When I do turn on the music, I've found a few things to be very helpful and few to be rather destructive. Here's some advice you might not have thought of before:

1. Never turn on a music video. The whole idea of listening to music while you write is to help get your ideas flowing. Those of you like me with 2+ monitors might be tempted to play the music videos for your favorite songs. Again, that will only sidetrack your writing.

2. Don't play music you know by heart. This may sound odd, but your brain only has one primary focal awareness. Just like turning down the music when driving in an unfamiliar area, you want the music to fade into the background so your focal awareness can sit firmly in the driver's seat and get to typing. If you're singing along to the lyrics, you aren't writing. If you're anticipating a sick bass drop, you aren't writing.

3. Don't listen to music that is lyric-driven. Just like listening to something familiar, you don't want to be distracted by vibrant vocals and provocative lyrics. Do you have to listen to classical? Of course not. Plenty of bands put out instrumental albums and tracks. Still can't find any instrumentals you like? Try listening to music with harsh vocals or music sung in a foreign language. That helps the music drift into your subconscious and block out distractions.

4. Make sure the feeling of the music matches the mood of your writing, not the mood of your brain. Most people, myself included, pick music that fits whatever is going on in your life. If work sucks, you might pick 5 Minutes Alone by Pantera before you click on Barry White. Don't let your music choices influence your writing. If you need a sorrowful, dramatic scene, you need music to match. Perhaps try With Drooping Wings from Henry Purcell's opera, Dido and Aeneas. Writing a glorious fantasy combat scene with magic and death? Power metal is the way to go. Writing a horror scene where your main character discovers the corpse of his long-lost dog-turned-gorilla best friend? Try some slower doom / death metal. Perhaps your protagonist is attempting a bloody amateur surgery. Goregrind will help set the tone.

5. Check out some of these songs to try and fit the style of you writing. As always, don't focus on the music. Let it drown out everything else in the world and let you immerse yourself in your words. When you get into the writing groove, you shouldn't even hear the music. 


Writing a fantasy battle scene? Death of a main character? Runes Carved to my Memory by Amon Amarth

Did your horror novel just take a turn into satanic cults and human sacrifice? O Father, O Satan, O Sun by Behemoth

Someone being chased? Tikal by E. S. Posthumus

Is someone about to die? Has your protagonist lost the love of his life? Thy Hand, Belinda by Henry Purcell (from the opera Dido and Aeneas)

Need an inspirational speech? Victory Song by Ensiferum

Just need something sad or tragic?  Franz Schubert's classic, Erlkonig (The Elf King)