Sounds to Write By

Did a fair amount of writing this past weekend, which I’m happy about. I like to write to music, but not the same kind of music I may choose to drive around to, or work out to. If it has lyrics or too much of a driving rock beat I find myself distracted. So I go for some classical music, or, even more likely, movie soundtracks. These two are absolutely fantastic; I would be hard-pressed to have to decide which one I like best. Not just when it comes to background writing music, but just gut-wrenching epic stuff that grabs my heart strings and yanks them mercilessly. In fact, these are two I would happily drive around listening to, and have.


This is a great one for creepy background music too.


Finally, here’s a surprising instrumental offering that I like to have playing now and again as well, from what is probably, to most, a surprising source.


I know a lot of writers who do write to “regular” music. I can in a pinch, of course — I’ve learned to do pretty well with all manner of potential distractions. But it isn’t my preference. It’s one of those process things I’m always curious to know about when it comes to other people’s creative endeavors. Hell, I’ve heard of plenty of comics artists who talk about watching movies while they work, which has to mean mostly listening to movies. That’s one thing I don’t think I could do.

Anyone else care to weigh in with their habits?



14 thoughts on “Sounds to Write By”

  1. Music helps to get me started or between breaks to get me going again, but not when it’s nuts and bolts time; then it’s too distracting … but the music I prefer is similar to yours. Classical (Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler or opera, any number of preludes–not so much arias).

    I won’t be listening to the Buffalo Bills theme song until our Harvard QB learns the meaning of clock management and his running game, though … what a stupid SOB move that was yesterday … and I obviously still cannot forget it …

  2. The Conan soundtrack is always inspirational, but when I need to clear my brain to concentrate on a story I usually loop the same tune or a short mix that has the feel of the novel.
    My current mix includes “Live Wire” by AC/DC, “Don’t Change” by INXS, “Hair of the Dog” by Nazareth… it’s a bad-ass out of prison revenge story that begins in the 80s.

  3. I generally need absolute quiet when I’m writing — so I can hear the language. Same thing when I’m reading. Must have quiet. When I’m doing other things around the house, such as cleaning, cooking, painting, then it’s rockabilly time.

  4. I need complete quiet because music takes over my head. Same with me for reading. My husband blares classical music from the next room while he writes. That’s okay if it isn’t opera.

  5. Yeah, I need instrumental when I try to write anything (Nick Cave soundtracks, Brian Eno, even Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor). I can do lyrics when I’m drawing, but I save putting on a dvd (usually w/ commentary) for when I’m doing something with less decision-making, like inking/shading/coloring drawings.

    1. I used to have some Mogwai and some GYBE as well, but they perished in the great Jack Russell Hiking His Leg On My External Hard Drive debacle of 2008. I need to re-up on some of that; I recall it being excellent for the purpose as well.

  6. Must have music, all the time, everywhere. When I’m writing, it depends on the project. The more creative the piece (i.e., a novel or short story as opposed to something more analytical or an essay), the more I need something without lyrics. I start with Miles or some Coltrane, or maybe Morphine. If I listen to something rhythmically heavy, like the Beasties or AC/DC, the rhythm tends to seep into my prose. That can be a good thing, so I really try to pay attention to what I choose to play.
    When I’m designing a CD package I always play the music of that artist so their sound will worm its way into my subconscious and affect the design.

  7. The David Shire soundtrack to The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a good one for me. The Endless Midnight album from Crone is nice and moody. Any of the albums from Zombi work well for me, too. I can also listen to old rockabilly, old country, and even some surf stuff when writing. Link Wray has been in the background of a lot of writing as of late.

  8. I usually get a few story ideas when I listen to music. Beyond that, I only listen to music when I have a bunch of editing to do. It’s a great way to explore a c.d. more thoroughly, like when I was I editing my last major project, I listened to Monster Magnet’s “Powertrip”, Live’s “Throwing Copper” and the first four c.d.’s of the Barenacked Ladies.

  9. I’m with you on this one, Chris. I don’t play any vocal music (other than opera) while I’m writing. It’s all-classical, all-soundtrack for me. Right now, as I’m typing this, Howard Shore’s “The Lord of the Rings” is playing…and now, it’s just switched over to some Beethoven. I keep my iTunes player on “Random” in my Classical and Soundtrack playlist. One minute it might be Alexandre Desplat and “Syria,” the next it might be Tchaikovksy and his 1812 cannons.

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