Listen To Music While You Write? I Say Yes, You Can!

Writing is a complicated profession, wouldn’t you agree? Anyone who has ever tried to write anything, from blog posts like this, to articles, to novels will tell you how easy it is to start and how hard it is to finish. Inspiration can run dry at the drop of a hat, and all writers suffer from it.

I’m all too familiar with the scent of regurgitated ideas…

A set of song lyrics I became acquainted with recently is the best summation of writer’s block I’ve seen yet. The song Losing It off of 1982’s Signals album by Rush says this:

The writer stares with glassy eyes — defies the empty page /
his beard is white, his face is lined and streaked with tears of rage / Thirty years ago, how the words would flow with passion and precision / But now his mind is dark and dulled by sickness and indecision / and he stares out the kitchen door / where the sun will rise no more…

Losing It, written by Neil Peart

While I don’t think I’m to the point of sickness and indecision yet (the jury is still out), hitting blocks in your work is a terrible affliction I would not wish on anyone. Something I have found to assuage the faltering imagination is music. Many writers will tell you there is no way they can concentrate with all that racket going on; that music is distracting. They just can’t do it. However, I say, yes you can.

Use Music to Spark Imagination

I’ll caveat this bold statement with a disclaimer: Every writer has their own method, and not everyone’s brain works the same. What works for me may not work for others.

I am fortunate to be an imagination-driven, visual thinker. I adore a vivid mental picture, and see things more clearly in my head sometimes than I do with my own eyes. Music speaks to me in that way. The song tells a story, and not just with the words but in the notes and melodies. Here’s an example:

The power of imagination

While working on an outline for a fantasy story I’d like to write, my brain fell flat on a tense moment. I knew how I wanted the scene to begin and end, but the tension in the middle read like an instructional textbook rather than anything remotely exciting. I can’t begin to describe the aggravation I felt, and lost count of how many times I hit the delete button in one simple paragraph. I laid the project aside for a couple days and simmered below a boil on how to progress the scene. Then, in the car, it hit me. My iPod rolled over to this song, Dragons at the Gate by Epic Score. Take a listen below:

If the idea was a piano, then it fell on my head from a 20-story building. I was so excited I had to pull over and start jotting notes before I forgot any of it. The tenseness in the music played out the whole scene right before my eyes. I could see it like I was watching a movie. The block was moved like Sampson knocking over his pillars. It was a glorious moment I’ll never forget.

What else is on my iPod?

Epic Score is one of several artists I go to for inspiration. They are all instrumental, so no worries about their words getting in the way. However, sometimes lyrics paint pictures you least expect. Classic rock from the 60s and 70s is a gold mine of story ideas and scene manifestations. Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, The Who, Rush, The Moody Blues, YES, and multiple others leave nuggets all over the place if you know how to mine them up.

I wrote an entire outline off of a King Crimson song for a medieval fantasy that currently is awaiting my attention. The Seeker by The Who conjures all sorts of ideas for me to put on paper. Red Rain by Peter Gabriel was probably my first outline based on my brain’s interpretation of a song. Neil Peart’s lyrics on any Rush album is a mother lode of ideas. Here’s some I’m currently listening to:

The beautiful and talented Lindsey Sterling’s music is always inspirational. Roundtable Rival got me through an entire written scene!
break
Break of Reality – awesome group to listen for textural ideas and gritty action
Love, love, love The Piano Guys. Always great, inspirational stuff
No one, and I mean NO ONE tells a story through song better than Loreena McKinnett!
The Hu. Listen to these guys for a few minutes and you’ll be ready to invade China with them. Somebody bring me my horse and my eagle!
Enya’s haunting vocals pry out some great ideas from my brain
Evanescence has deep lyrics with a chugging beat that conjures vivid scenes for me

So what’s the take-away from this?

What you’re writing will likely determine what you listen to. A romance author is probably not going to heavy metal for inspiration, and a horror novelist may not find inspirational solace in show tunes, but you never know. Don’t look at music being distracting, or background noise. Embrace it for the wonder it can spark in your mind.

The next time you’re struggling, slip on an obscure record. Sit back, close your eyes, and let the music take you for a little bit. When it’s over, and you are safely deposited back on the shores of your reality, you might be surprised at the adventures you had in the melodies. Give it a try. You never know… you might have the idea for the next best-seller. Happy writing!

To check out these amazingly inspirational artists, try their official links below:

Loreena McKinnett – Home Page

Lindsey Sterling – Home Page

Official Rush Page

Home of Evanescence

The Piano Guys

Epic Score Home Page

Break of Reality Official Page

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