Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Music to Write By

I used to write in such a way that I would create playlists for my stories. In grad school, I would send copies of these lists to one of my professors so he could understand where I was coming from and what was influencing me. Although I haven't done this recently, I'd still like to share some of the songs that have been seminal for me in my writing life. 

-"Isobel," Dido
A scene I wrote based on this song turned into my undergraduate thesis. Although the story on the whole has never been finished, I refuse to give up on it and continue work on it today (in spite of one professor telling me, ahem, not to do so).

- "Arabian Dance," Tchaikovsky
I recently drafted an essay about what this song means to me. It's a really gorgeous tune that never fails to make me think of something romantic to write about.

-"Big Empty," Stone Temple Pilots
Because I've spent a great deal of time on the road, shuttling from one place to another as I pursued educational and professional opportunities, I've also spent a great deal of time writing about my time on the road. This song epitomizes that tendency for two reasons: not only does it efficiently describe how I've felt at certain points ("Too much walking, shoes worn thin; / Too much trippin' and my soul's worn thin"), but it also serves as a reminder to all that I have more or less lived life to a soundtrack of STP's work.

- "Sour Girl," Stone Temple Pilots
Likewise, if I find myself with an extra five minutes before giving a reading, I listen to this tune to calm me down, because I get insanely nervous. I've also used both the lyrics and select images from the music video as jumping-off points in the past.

- "Oh! You Pretty Things," David Bowie
Most of my stories feature female narrators, mainly teenagers, and this song seems to suit many of them oh so well. That probably says more about my dysfunction as a writer than about their shortcomings as characters.

There are many more tracks out there that have touched me both personally and professionally, but if I enumerated all of them, we'd be here for years. I invite you to share a list of your own essential listening in the comments, though!



  1. For as many times as I've tried to write with music, the only type that works is instrumental. Lyrics have my singing along and writing slows to a crawl.

    I think I have about 200 songs in my instrumental playlist but it needs to grow a bit. Same playlist for way too long.

    1. Thanks for reading, Tim!

      I agree, it can be very distracting to write to music with lyrics. In general, I listen to music BEFORE I write, not WHILE I write; otherwise, I would never get any work done--because, like you, I start to sing along!