While I don’t mind writing without music, I need it most of the time. I give more than forty of my waking, productive hours to corporations in exchange for a paycheck, which makes it hard for me to shift my focus to something creative. I’m sensitive to music, so I can use it to change my mood and set a mental environment that’s more fitting for writing.
Everyone who writes with music takes a different approach to it, so if you’re picking this up for the first time or thinking of altering your current practice, consider that each person will respond to music differently. Experimenting is the only way to find what works for you, and beware that you may need more than one music setting depending what you write.
Variables to Tweak:
- Volume – Does the music have to be so loud it drowns out any other distraction? Or does it need to be quiet enough that you can hear yourself think? Don’t just set the volume at what you usually have for other activities; play with it while writing and see how your brain responds. What if you find out your actually do your best work when you have 150dB of butt rock music pounding through your skull?
- Lyrics – I almost always need music without words when I’m writing. I can handle them when I’m manipulating large amounts of data in Excel, but those voices need to shut the hell up when I’m forming sentences on a screen. You might be indifferent though, but you should try the opposite of what you normally have in the background. I’ve had coworkers who listen to hardcore rap for leisure, but need a philharmonic orchestra to get them through the work day. To completely contradict myself, I can write some things with soft French music in the background, like Coeur de Pirate.
- Type of music - This is probably where you’ll have the most experimentation. I need different types of music for different tasks. I can’t handle as many beats per minute while writing as I can at work, so my power hour playlist I use to crank through monthly financial reporting won’t do when I’m trying to write a scene involving any kind of real emotion.
Finding the Right Type of Music
My background music can’t have surprises, so I have playlists with vetted tracks I know won’t throw an emotional curve ball through my brain. Building and maintaining the mood lists I have is a bit of work, so here’s my method:
Passively discover new tracks while doing tasks with less creative demands like outlining, copyediting, and incorporating feedback from readers. I do this using streaming services like Pandora, Google Music radio, or one of the sites below.
When a track comes on that will fit nicely in a current playlist, find it and add it to that list. This means your default music manager will eventually have its own mood lists that curated to your needs. If I’m creating a new mood, I’ll create a station on Pandora with an artist or two that match that mood and start flagging tracks that work well. In Google Music, I can create a playlist with those tracks, then turn that list into a radio station to get even more customized results. Personally, I think Pandora does better at helping me discover new music, and Google Music is better at helping me grow that style of music and keep good tracks “on demand.” I pay for both services so I don’t have to deal with ads, and it’s worth it for how much I depend on each.
Here are some great ways to find music that fits whatever mood you need to create:
I discovered this service ona couple productivity blogs, and it’s pretty brilliant. If you don’t have the energy to hunt for a bunch of songs and make playlists, or if you just need to get into a mood right away, head here. The site let’s you “set it and forget it,” meaning you pick from its preset tempos and let it go. The free version lets you listen to any one channel for up to 60 minutes. Paid, unlimited access is $5/mo or $45/yr.
A similar site is Stereomood. I think the songs it chooses for each mood fit the category more vaguely than Focus @ Will and its layout is messier, but it’s worth checking out if you need some variety.
Do you prefer the sound of falling rain to keep you productive? How about rain mixed with your music? Check out Rainfor.me.
You can have this running in the background so it mixes with your music. It’s browser-based, but you can also download a track to play offline. I know, people like me from the Pacific Northwest shouldn’t need fake rain, but I’m a huge fan of this as white noise.
Still not getting tons of writing done with all this help? Are you distracted and doing too many other things when you should be focused? It might be time to rebuild your attention span.