My Writing Process: Background Sounds & Music

Musical Notes

I've had a good response to sharing some insights into my personal writing process, so I'll keep sharing for a while or at least until I run out of thoughts. And if you have questions you'd like me to answer, please drop me a note.

This time it's another common question writers get asked and that they ask each other: What do you listen to when you're writing?

My answer is it depends on where I'm writing. If I'm in a perfectly quiet spot, I can handle silence. But that is rare, unless I have the house to myself. Even in a library, there will be nearby conversations. If I'm in a coffee shop, I can make do with just the background buzz sometimes. As long as I can't make out individual conversations, it just becomes white noise to me. 

But usually, there are spoken words to be heard (or overheard), and that is the worst distraction (at least to me) when I'm writing. So I go with earbuds and music stored on my laptop. What kind of music? Well, first it must NOT have lyrics. Hearing words in my ears makes it hard to write my own words. Second, it must NOT have any strong emotional element to it.

Now, some writers like a specific emotional track playing that matches the emotion they're going for in a scene. That approach just wouldn't work for me, at least not as a routine. One, it would require too much effort organizing music tracks against my planned writing schedule. Two, I jump around from scene to scene when I'm writing. Or I decide that, no, I'm not going to work on that chapter today after all. I'd end up spending all my writing time looking for the "right" track before I could write.

So my go-to music is Baroque instrumental pieces, mostly Vivaldi, but also Bach, Corelli, Albinoni, Torelli, and more. Maybe some Mozart or Beethoven. But definitely no Tchaikovsky or any of the Romantics, because the emotion of those works pulls me into the music and away from the writing (and, again, the emotion of the music would likely differ from the emotion of the scene I'm writing). Vivaldi works because (to me) it's cerebral, not emotional. I have enough Vivaldi to cover a ten-hour writing session without repeating a piece if I ever needed that much.

And no, that's not what I listen to at other times. My current playlist is Springsteen, Metric, July Talk, The Moulettes, Billy Eilish, Dear Rouge, and Moscow Apartment, to name a few. 

And if you ever long for the sound of a crowded coffee shop, to use as your own white noise or just because, check out Coffitivity, a free site that lets you choose from several noisy coffee or eating environments for your background ambience.

And for smart phone users, Relax Melodies is my fave app for creating custom mixes of dozens and dozens of sounds. Want to pretend you're relaxing by the seaside? Or curled up in front of a crackling fire during a thunderstorm? Camping in the forest on a summer night? Just pick the sounds you want in your mix. Great for writing to or for drifting off to sleep or for creating the perfect atmosphere for a fiction podcast or radio play.