Music for writing: My top ten playlists

Posted by on Feb 24, 2017 in A Writer's Life, The Slow Trail Home | 0 comments

For me, silence isn’t golden. I need music for writing.

Music for writing playlistsI need music to distract that part of my brain that wants to ping everywhere but on my writing. But I’ve found over the years that only some types are music for writing.

No words allowed

A song’s lyrics usually distract me from the words I need to be putting down on paper. For that reason, I steer clear of music with lyrics, unless those lyrics happen to support what I’m writing, which does happen, though very, very rarely. The Civil Wars and Clannad fall into that rare category.

The best music for writing? Soundtracks!

Composers for movies and TV (and video games!) use music to support the story being told. The best soundtracks follow the same rhythms and flows of a book. BUT…I’ve found that if I know the source show too well, my brain starts to “watch” it in my head. Therefore, I tend to listen to soundtracks of things I’m relatively unfamiliar with. Gettysburg (which I saw 8 1/2 times in the theater. Yeah, I’m a total Civil War geek.) was a total anomaly. I used that soundtrack over and over while writing An Uncivilized Yankee, for obvious reasons. However, I haven’t been able to use it for any other stories since then.

Driving rhythms drive writing

I can’t write to consistently slow or mellow music. Just can’t. I like Enya, I like Secret Garden, but that type of music does not work for writing. Much of A Great Wide Nowhere was written to the angry cellos of Apocalyptica, the epic music of Globus and E.S. Posthumus, or the sweeping themes of Dances with Wolves and Twister.

What works may change

The music that worked for one book may not work for the next. For me, it usually doesn’t. I’ve found only one soundtrack that I can use consistently across all my writings, and that is Last of the Mohicans.

So here–in no particular order–are my Top Ten albums that got The Slow Trail Home written.

  1. Dr. Who (Series 2-6). I strung all five albums together on Spotify, which gave me nearly 11 hours worth of uninterrupted music (I pay for the commercial-free version). Oddly enough, I have over 1500 followers of this list, so I have to assume others find it useful background music as well.
  2. Firefly. I’ve read about the show, but never watched it. However, the Wild West feel fit my writing needs.
  3. Copper. I had never even heard of this show, but again, the music suited my story well.
  4. Hunger GamesThis one came courtesy of my daughter, as I had little interest in the movie. But I loved the songs they played at the end of the movie (“Kingdom Come” and “Safe and Sound”), and in listening to those, I realized the rest of the soundtrack was pretty good as well.
  5. Ender’s Game Another album my daughter suggested. She was watching the movie and pointed out it had a most excellent soundtrack. At the time, I was struggling to finish up my manuscript, and it provided just the right amount of tension and drive.
  6. Halo. Yes, the video game. But video games tell stories too, and music is a vital part of those stories. Someone else had already put all the soundtracks together in one playlist on Spotify, which made it very easy for me.
  7. Holy Ghost. So, this one is weird. I heard some music on a commercial being played on the TV displays at Walmart. I have SoundHound on my phone (I love that app!), and it identified the snippet as a song from a tiny little indie movie called Holy Ghost, which just happened to also be available on Spotify.
  8. North and South. Not the BBC show, but the old 1980s miniseries. It was near impossible to find the full soundtrack, but last year Varese Sarabande released most of the music on CD, and I snapped it up.
  9. Legends of the Fall. Another movie I’ve never seen, probably never will. But James Horner was an incredible composer (I also own the Titanic and Braveheart soundtracks)
  10. Last of the Mohicans. Still my go-to soundtrack. Added bonus of Clannad singing the main theme (the longer version on their Banba album is incredibly haunting).

Writers:  What is your favorite music for writing?

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