Three Ways I Use Music When Writing

  1. Characters   Sometimes it’s hearing a song and knowing it fits a character’s personality, or a scene in the book, perfectly.
  2. On Repeat – I wish I could take credit for this, but alas, I’m not the first to advocate listening to a single song on repeat. I first heard about it from my husband, who uses it as a technique to get into “the zone” when he’s on a big work project, who attributed it to Mr. Four Hour himself Tim Ferriss (though it originally came from a WordPress founder ). The trick is to pick a song you can stand to hear over and over again (or in my case brings me to mind of a charter or scene I’m working on) and listen to it on repeat. A few of my favorites: “The Theme from Far from a Madding Crowd,” anything by Zoe Keating, and “Cheers to the Fall,” by Andra Day. One word of caution: depending on how often you use the song be prepared for one of two things to happen:
    1. You hate it and never want to hear it again.
    2. You hear it out in the world and your brain goes into work mode. In the grocery store. Or the shower.
  3. Playlists – By the time I’ve finished a book, it has a playlist of songs. Some of them carry over from book to book, but most are ones that fit into #1 or #2 above. Though sometimes I devote (procrastinate) an hour or so to shaping up a playlist for a project, most of the time it’s a more organic process. I listen to music all the time around the house and in the car and am always excited to discover new (or new to me) artists. Once a song hits me, I add it to a playlist or make a note to add it later. 

Where do I get my music:

  • NPR: I don’t listen to the music shows as much as I used to, but every year the music crew at NPR puts out the Austin 100, a free downloadable curated music from South by Southwest.
  • Other Playlists: In my attempt to stay semi-current, I listen to a lot of new release playlists on Spotify and Amazon Music. I’m not gonna lie, I hit the skip button a lot (Biebers of the word, I’m looking at you) but once in a while I’m digging what the kids these days are rocking out to (says Granny Silvera) I also like the mood/activity based playlists of Google Play. Most of their workout playlists are great for writing action scenes. I’ll talk more about writing sexy-times later…
  • Pandora… If I know I like an artist or a sound I let it’s algorithm create a list of like-minded songs.

How does any of this help?

Music has always had the ability to transport me. When I was a kid, my mom used to play Harry Belafonte at Carnage Hall (on vinyl, no less) to get us out of bed in the morning. To this day, Jump In the Line and The Banana Boat Song get me motivated and moving. 

Writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint. Sustaining the emotions and mood of scenes or character as I edit and revise is so much easier if I can get back into the same state I occupied when that character or scene was first coming to me. I use the song on retreat trick a lot when I’m editing because it helps keep me in that zone.

Both Death’s Dancer and Dancer’s Flame have Spotify playlists if you’re curious to know what music inspired each.

What music inspires your writing, or your reading? Do you like knowing what songs an author listens to when they write, or do you prefer your own playlist?