Music for writing

06/06/2014 10:59

I was happily bopping along to Pharrell William’s “Happy” this morning and then started thinking about the music that I write to, so you’re getting a thoughtful post on “How I Write” this morning…

I do listen to music as I write; it’s not something I necessarily need, but I do like having it. Music, for me, is background and mood. I like having something that I know already, and can safely ignore: listening to new music tends to throw me off when I’m writing, because I can’t tune it out, and it pulls me out of the story. I also usually go for vocal stuff, as opposed to instrumental: however, the one exception to this is Ludovico Einaudi, who I love, but does only work in specific situations. I know some of my friends can only cope with background noise or something like rain noise – which drives me completely mad, as I can’t ignore it! I guess that if I used it more often, it would be something that I could ‘tune out’ as I do with music, but at the moment I don’t have the inclination to bother.


I have two paths for listening to music. The first is random: I’ll sometimes have the radio on – usually Absolute Radio (unless it’s before 10am, because I absolutely detest Christian O’Connell), because Absolute plays the sort of music that I can safely ignore. I’ll also occasionlly put my iTunes playlists on random, although this does occasionally get dangerous because I have some absolute rubbish on there, and it can get quite jarring! This tends to be what I go for if I’m not exactly sure what I want to work on, or I have odd ideas that I want to get down rather than write a chunk.


The second path is much more specific. I have certain playlists for different worlds, and the music on them corresponds to the “mood” in which I write. The lists do change over the months as I find new music and delete old stuff, but they do tend to keep a core.

Shadows has artists like 30 Seconds to Mars, Coldplay, Keane, The Killers, Stereophonics, Bastille, GooGoo Dolls, Lifehouse, Counting Crows, The Lumineers, and then some more specific tracks – The 1975 ‘Sex’, Avicii ‘Hey Brother’, The Script ‘Hall of Fame’, Toad The Wet Sprocket ‘Something’s Always Wrong’…

Greensky has a slightly different mix: along with Augustana, Imagine Dragons, Bastille, Gin Blossoms, Noah & The Whale, Toad The Wet Sprocket and some Coldplay, I’ve got The 1975 ‘Chocolate’, Armin van Buuren ‘This is what it feels like’, The Wallflowers ‘One Headlight’, and I’ve just added Coldplay ‘A Sky Full of Stars’. Essentially, Greensky is a lighter and more joyous mix than Shadows – which does show in the subject matter!

I also write to individual tracks, if they catch my imagination. Salt Winds was mostly written to John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home/Country Roads’ (don’t ask), and I think Heights & Horizons is likely to be written to Coldplay ‘A Sky Full of Stars’. It doesn’t often work, as I do get sick of tracks eventually, but for some individual ones it really does work well!

I do have a couple of other playlists – including one named ‘Random’, which should tell you everything you need to know – but I don’t tend to write to these. One of my favourites at the moment is my ‘Singing’ one, which has a lot of music I love, but I do sing along to it – and that obviously isn’t particularly helpful for writing as I’m trying to concentrate on two things at once. I haven’t yet written lyrics into my stories by accident, but I don’t want to start!


The side benefit of having certain playlists is that if I’ve listened to them enough, I can simply put that list on and be transported to that world: so even if I’m not entirely in the mood for writing, that can sometimes be enough to get me working. It obviously only works after a certain amount of time, but I’ve found that even months later, the effect is still there – and it’s a very useful shortcut into ‘writing mode’.

I also noticed that it works the other way around when I started reading other people’s writing. I read my friend Logic’s high fantasy book to Mumford & Son’s ‘Babel’ on repeat, and I’ve just read a magic/urban/apocalyptic series to Celldweller ‘Wish Upon a Blackstar’. They both seemed to fit the tone of the books, and particularly with Logic’s ones, I find that when I listen to the album it conjures memories of his characters. Interesting, eh?


So – anything I should listen to? Any good music suggestions that might fit into what I listen to already? What do you listen to when you’re writing?

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.