If you know me, you know I’m a big fan of mood. The atmosphere of your writing environment can greatly effect your content output and content quality. Random, disorganized, loud sounds are damaging to focus and critical thinking. Writing is had work, so you should take every advantage you can. You’ll thank yourself later.
As Jerry Jenkins said, “a truly great writer can write anywhere”. This is true, and being able to ignore your surroundings as far as sound is concerned is an acquired skill. Some of us are bothered by the slightest sounds. Some of us are disturbed by background noises. Whatever it is, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to eliminate it if you can.
For me, pop and rock songs are usually out if they have lyrics (I normally like metal, but not when I’m writing). The lyrics just grab my attention and do not let go. It’s like if someone was talking to me, or someone had a movie on in the same room as me. It’s hard to focus on work when someone’s listening to Daft Punk as the strains of “Instant Crush” flow through the overpowered headset.
That being said, I prefer some music to the endless and often distracting caterwauling of my family. (I love you guys, but no matter how many times I say “please be quiet” or “just go outside” will you actually do it…) This music is the repetitive orchestral score kind, video game music, or epic music. Usually it’s not too repetitive that it takes up my concentration, but provides kind of a white noise background when I put both muffs in. Again, I prefer silence (which is why many of my productive writing sessions have happened at night recently), but if it becomes too much of a problem, then I default to this nice piece of music: (in fact, I’m listening to it while I write this article)
Again, what works for me might not work for you. In fact, that’s like all writing advice summed up in one quote. Speaking of that, there’s only one rule of writing that you must not disregard: If something works for you, do it. Every other rule can be called off. I argue that all rules should be fairly considered–with a grain of salt, that is.
Anyway, where were we? Ah, yes. Music. I would stay away from music with words and songs with simple melodies. Instead, choose something that is slightly repetitive, loud, and has strings or some approximation (Gregorian chant would work if you can’t understand the voices).
While I don’t know if this is scientifically verifiable, I think there’s something in the fact that music sets a mood. If you’re looking to write a nineteenth-century romance, it might be better to listen to the gentle pluckings of a sleepy harp rather than Race to Durango by Two Steps from Hell. However, if you’re writing an epic fantasy involving magic pirates, the latter choice would probably outweigh it in a lot of scenarios.
Remember, this is all if music creates an atmosphere. I’m fully ready to admit that it does not, and I wasn’t advocating for this alternative in any situation until literally yesterday (basically, the sounds of two pianos, a cello, and a pounding keyboard filled my ears, so I cranked the above soundtrack to the max and regained my concentration. Since then, I’ve found it effective when I can’t focus).
But since I write stories of the fantastic, it only makes sense that I would recommend fantastical music. Maybe music with words does allow you to focus. I can’t see any earthly way that it does, but if it works for you, go for it. I haven’t asked a lot of writers their opinion on this, so I’m not completely sure. But sometimes it works for me, and if it does, it will work for people who are like me.
I really want to believe that listening to music will help immerse yourself in the world you’re creating, but that’s not honestly verifiable. So I’m not going to stage a huge promise only for it to fall flat on its face, so I’m just going to give you my recommendations and the warning to take them with a grain of salt.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!