I’ve Got the Music in Me

music-notesI was on Facebook the other day (yes, *instead* of writing) and came across this survey: What music do you listen to when you write? As you can imagine, the answers were all over the place, and the comments were as well. One comment in particular stuck with me: “I don’t listen to music. It occupies the creative centers of the brain and prevents me from writing.”

Huh. Weird, right? I had always been under the impression that listening to music served as a focus. Unless it was music with lyrics. At that point, I’ll start singing along and the kids will come in and tell me to stop torturing squirrels, it’s too loud, the neighbors are beginning to complain, and the police have been called. I really don’t understand why; I have a beautiful singing voice.


Of course, my opinion is entirely subjective, and there’s the rub. It got me to thinking and I began to examine the premise that music in general (and my singing in particular) might be detrimental to the creative process. As it turns out, opinions vary on music in general, but most are favorable towards listening to music as a creative aid (my singing not withstanding). I breathed a sigh of relief; I almost always have music on as background noise.

The technical sites are rather dry, but there are a couple that are accurate to the test data, as well as engaging. According to The Experience Project and The Oxford Journals, music occupies the distracting parts of your brain by keeping the it busy counting beats and absorbing the melody. By engaging the parts of your brain that interrupt (“I need to remember the dry cleaning. Note to self: start dinner at 4:00PM. Ugh! Do my cuticles REALLY look like that?”), music allows us to focus on creating the narrative, plugging the plot holes, and developing the characters. I have used this method to silence my inner editor and get cranking on the word counts. It was noted, however, that this isn’t all wine and roses for songs with lyrics because we tend to focus on what is being said, rather that remaining in our creative zone.

Different songs mean different things to us. The beat and tempo can set the mood. Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite movies, The Sea Hawk. It’s only thirty seconds long. Take a listen and see what it inspires in you:



I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to buckle on my swash, climb the rigging, and repel all boarders! The music is just so heroic! In my experience, it doesn’t work all that well for love scenes, or serious, dramatic moments, but it’s great for fight scenes, and for things that are terribly thrilling.

I have taken to the practice of picking up soundtracks that catch my ear. I’m a sucker for the classics, so naturally The Sea Hawk is among my favorites. I’m also terribly fond of The Shadow, Space Above and Beyond, and The Rocketeer. Of course, I write a lot of pulp.

I didn’t acquire these soundtracks all at once. I’ve been purchasing one or two, here and there. If you are looking for a more economical way to jump right in, I recommend 8tracks.com. You can also hit the Internet Archive. Then there’s Charlie Barnet, or Vernian Process. Other low cost alternatives are available from Alex White and John Anealio.

There are a ton of sites that stream free or low cost music. Chances are, you already know half a dozen yourself. Find a combination that works for you and be inspired. Put the music in you!


Do you listen to music while writing, or do you find it distracting? If you do like music in the background, what kind? What song do you use to get those word counts up? Let us know in the comments below! Maybe you’ll find something new to inspire you, too. 



DirtyMagick-LA_BookCover_we-196x300 Paul’s first published short story, “The Winds,” is part of “Dirty Magick: Los Angeles” – an anthology exploring the crossroads between urban fantasy and noir; mean streets, dirty magic! Available for Kindle and Nook.




4 comments for “I’ve Got the Music in Me

  1. Heather Button
    February 4, 2014 at 11:02 am

    I listen to music when I write. Actually, I listen to music when I do most things. Rock when I’m designing or drawing or generally creating. Rap or dance when I’m working out, although Rock tends to work itself in there as well. But when I write, I love soundtracks and music without lyrics. I have a mix of items. Everything from Apocalyptica (Metallica done by cellists), to Delhi to Dublin (Indian-Irish mix), to Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter and Amelie soundtracks. But interestingly, I turn it off when I’m editing. I think it’s because it is a different part of the brain I’m engaging. Great post!

  2. February 4, 2014 at 11:57 am

    This is interesting, thanks Paul! I have “play lists” for my stories that help me get in the mood, but sometimes lyrics are distracting. I like the notion that instrumental music can silence the “to do” list going on in my head and help my writing be more focused- I think I’ll be turning on Mozart more often…

  3. February 4, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I have a huge Enya playlist I use when I write. That is my exclusive writing music no matter what the genre, scene, etc.

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