Music and Writing – The Chicken or the Egg?

Every week, I do my best to participate in as many writing-related Twitter chats as I can. They’re fun, interactive, and they get my brain moving in different directions. A recent #writerspatch chat focused on playlists for writing. Questions included things like “How does music affect your writing process?” and “What is your favorite genre of music to listen to while writing, and why?” My favorite question was probably “Will your playlist affect your story, or will your story affect your playlist?”

For me, the answer is the latter. I listen to music almost constantly–probably around 12 hours a day. What I listen to depends on what I’m writing. When I wrote the first draft of Stray, over four years ago, I had just discovered Maroon 5, and I listened to their Hands All Over and Overexposed albums on a loop for months. Nothing else. No other bands. Nothing. When I first drafted the sequel to Stray, I listened to Bastille’s Bad Blood album on loop so many times I have flashbacks anytime I hear Dan Smith’s voice.

Since then, I’ve moved on to individualized playlists for characters. When I’m creating new characters, one of the first things I do for them is build a themed playlist. Andrew’s playlist is Fitz & the Tantrums, OK Go, Kongos, and Foster the People. Trystin gets classic rock and solo piano instrumentals. It helps me get into their heads. When I was pre-writing for NaNoWriMo, I spent an entire day at work switching between Pandora stations trying to figure out what my MC would listen to. After much station-hopping, I stumbled upon Milky Chance, Radical Face, The Head and the Heart, and The Decemberists, and knew I had found his home.

I’ve noticed recently that when I am working on a certain set of characters, my brain automatically craves the music I associate with them. Even if I’m not physically writing at the moment, if I’m at work or driving or just doing chores around the house, my brain (always writing in the background, let’s be real) just feels like listening to Ok Go. Or Mozart. Or Bastille. When I shift gears to work on a different WIP, whether I am consciously deciding or not, I suddenly crave a different kind of music.

What do you guys listen to when you write? Do you find that your playlists differ depending on the characters, or do you listen to music more for the overall ambience of a scene? Or does it even matter?


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As yet unpublished author of m/m romance.

8 thoughts on “Music and Writing – The Chicken or the Egg?”

  1. I love reading about authors’ processes! For me I think it’s the other way around. I don’t have music on while I’m at the computer actually writing—it’s too distracting for me. But I have it on when I’m wandering through life daydreaming and coming up with ideas. The music that happens to be on sets the mood and affects the direction of my musings.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I listen to music when I write, but it can’t have lyrics. Words entering my brain while I’m trying to make words exit my brain is way too difficult. So I usually don’t listen to my character playlists while writing either. But I do listen to them while I’m at work/driving/shopping and I jot down ideas as I go. Then when I get to my computer, I’m ready to write.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting perspective … I find that the music generally latches onto a character or an event or just the colour of the curtains, and then it is wedded to the story or poem it has chosen; each time I read it again it sings that music, and each time I listen to the music it whispers fragments of the story or poem.

    Liked by 1 person

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