Music To My Process

I had an interesting discussion with a friend on Twitter the other day about music and writing. In the end, she suggested I should do a blog post about my thoughts on the subject. After some mulling, I decided, why not?

I’m one of those people who listens to music a lot. And I do mean A LOT. It’s on perpetually when I’m home. When I’m out walking around, I’ve got my headphones on all the time. The tunes aren’t cranked (most of the time) because I like my hearing and I’d like it to still be there when I get into my 50s and 60s, but they’re most definitely playing. If you offered a way to jack my iPod straight into my brain, I’d probably take it, just so I can have 24/7 music without people complaining. πŸ™‚

So you probably won’t be surprised to know I’m one of those writers who has music on while I work. When I write, edit or outline, there’s always music. The only time I don’t is when I do my out loud edit, and the reason should be obvious. I’m reading the story aloud. I need to hear it.

But I don’t listen to just any old tunes while writing. I have particular music for particular things. For example, when I’m revising, sometimes I prefer Miles Davis’s album Kinda Blue. I also have a Writing Inspiration playlist, consisting largely of instrumental music, most of it from video game soundtracks. Some games have fantastic scores, and since I write fantasy, so many of them are just about perfect.

Then there are the project playlists. First, let me explain that “project” in this context means trilogy/quartet/whatever. It’s the total story, not just one book. So the Mirrors of Bershan is a project. Necromantic would be another project, etc. And for each of those, I have a playlist.

I’m not going to talk much about the specific songs on the playlists in this post. If you’re curious about the one for the Mirrors of Bershan, I was a guest at Jolene Haley’s blog here on the subject. I talked about what songs are on the list and why.

Instead, I thought I’d share how I build them and why, because the songs aren’t chosen at random and I don’t do it just because I love music.

I start creating a project’s playlist fairly early in the process of developing the idea behind it. The timing varies, but it’s generally kicked off the same way. I find a song that not only makes me think of the story but causes it to start unfurling in my head. It evolves pretty much as long as I’m drafting the books. I don’t think the Necromantic playlist stopped until I was half done the final book in that trilogy.

Songs go on the list as I find them and in no particular order. I usually listen on random repeat when I’m working anyway, so I don’t worry about order as I once did when I was crafting mix tapes in my early teens. Oh god, I think I just dated myself and not in any good way. Moving right along…

The songs I select fall into two categories. The first is the sort of song that got me started on the playlist in the first place, the ones that make the story flow. The second are, in some ways, more interesting. That second type of song touches on themes in the book or general feel and sometimes on things about the characters themselves.

To give you an idea of what I mean about this, there are two songs on the Necromantic playlist that pertain to Devan himself. One is Silhouette of a Life by 10 Years. This song is about feel and it gives you a sense of how Devan looks at his world, the flow of his emotions and his outlook on where his life is at. The second is also by 10 Years, but it’s a fairly different song. Listening to the lyrics of Waking Up the Ghost, I came to understand a lot of things about Devan. Yes, I know, the title of that song is pretty appropriate for a Necromancer in the first place. I may have laughed my ass off when I first realized how important it was (hint: I totally did).

When I first started creating these playlists, I thought it was just good music that I enjoyed and was at least sort of related to what I was working on as I talked about, but it’s turned out to be more than that. Not long after I create a playlist, it starts doing something interesting. It cues my brain that it’s time to write. More than that, it often shifts my brain into the right mode to write or work on that particular project. And this happens despite the fact that some songs exist on multiple project playlists. It’s kind of fantastic in a way, but it can also be a bit problematic if I turn one of them on at the day job. Then all I want to do is write. Oh, the tragedy. πŸ˜‰

So, there you go, my thoughts on music and my story-related playlists. I’ll admit, I’m a bit curious. Am I the only one who does this? Do you guys have any particular songs for your stories? Do you have a playlist for writing in general? Or are you one of those, like the friend I was discussing this with, who needs silence to write? Feel free to share in the comments. Like I said, I’m curious.

In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be listening to Fallen by 30 Seconds to Mars on repeat one. It’s Saul’s song. He owns it and whispers whenever it plays. It’s my easiest way draw him out. Not that he needs any encouragement to share his story. πŸ˜‰


About Julie

I'm a writer and photographer. I always have something with me to take notes for ideas or writing projects I'm thinking about or have on the go. I also like to go around with my camera and take pictures of anything that strikes me as beautiful or evocative. I'm perpetually working on one story or another, while waiting for enough distance to judge the last one (or more). I'm always working on several projects at once, developing the next book, even as I'm editing the last. Beyond that, there's always plenty of scraps and twists of ideas rolling around in my head, eventually turning themselves into full blown stories.
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15 Responses to Music To My Process

  1. Brilliant and very interesting. Thanks lady. So much. Must try it.

  2. quix689 says:

    I usually need music when I’m planning. Writing can go either way. Sometimes it helps me concentrate on the story. Other times I end up listening to the words and stop paying attention to the actual writing part.

    I do, however, make playlists for each novel. Usually it’s just one playlist, but lately I’ve been breaking it down into a folder for each novel and then having a separate list for each theme/subplot. For instance, with my most current novel, I had a playlist dealing with unemployment and then a playlist for each love interest, plus a playlist for when she finally starts figuring her life out. It was fun, and like you said – it helps me understand the characters better sometimes. But mostly I just love music. πŸ™‚

  3. stansifer says:

    Fantastic article about the wonders of music in writing. I have my own stories, but I rarely find more than just a few songs that match the story extremely well.

    Do you prefer songs with vocals or without? Or does it just depend?

    • Julie says:

      Depends. Usually it’s some of each. My general inspiration playlist is almost entirely instrumental, but the project playlists have a lot of vocals, some instrumental. It does depend on what fits. I find after a while though, I can tune out the vocals while writing because I know them so well.

      • stansifer says:

        But when you’ve had those songs in your playlists for so long, do you find they lose some of their impact when you’re listening to those songs outside of writing?

        • Julie says:

          I wouldn’t say so. It probably helps that some songs are on multiple lists and usually I’d already fallen in love with them for other reasons. In a couple cases, the only change is that hearing the song makes me want to write. πŸ™‚

  4. Pete Denton says:

    Most of the time I like to have something on in the background when writing or editing. I don’t like writing in silence, for some reason it just doesn’t work for me. I like that some of your characters have their own songs. Brilliant πŸ™‚

    • Julie says:

      I generally play the music low when I’m writing. It allows me to concentrate, but I still hear it. And yes, it’s kind of cool the way they pick a song sometimes. Saul’s hold on that song is so strong that I doubt I’ll ever be able to listen to it again without thinking of my fallen angel.

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    I’m the opposite. I can’t work with music or TV or any other audio distraction. I’ll get pulled away from my writing. But sometimes, listening to music when I’m not writing will get my characters and Muse thinking. So music can lead to writing. But then I have to turn it off! πŸ™‚

  6. Celtic Forest Dweller says:

    Fascinating post! I use music a lot myself and I have a few songs for various projects… I only recently started making playlists for them though, and that’s been awesome and very useful.

    I don’t know… I guess I haven’t really analyzed my music process in regard to writing…

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