When sitting down to write, the right environment and mood has enormous implications on both my creativity and productivity. Dual monitors and an ergo keyboard make writing on my computer a breeze as outlines, online dictionaries, and background information are only as far away as a glance to the left. A small bookcase next to my desk includes my writing and reference books while the dorm-sized fridge just behind my chair keeps my refreshments cool and ready, and therefore, me happy and hydrated.
But nothing affects the number or quality of words that land on the page than the music that moves me when I write. The right melody or beat helps my mind focus on the scene at hand and tune out all the other distractions in the room and in my mind. Pumped through speakers or, even better, while wearing headphones, a mainline of music removes the indecision and apprehension and lets my creative center connect directly with my typing fingers.
Some music works for me at nearly any time, such as Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, his cello concertos performed by Yo-Yo Ma, or nearly any composer (Vivaldi, Mozart, Holst, Mussorgsky to name a few). The structure and organization of the pieces help me structure and organize my stories.
But there are other musicians and musical genres that are more closely related to the type of story or even scene being written. Below is a breakdown of how I leverage different music to support my creative writing, starting with some of the more specific areas first. For each area, I’ve included a brief explanation of what works for me, as well as some musical artists to consider if you want to give it a try.
Climate Fiction – A new writing area for me, Hawaiian slack key helps me visualize and connect with the oceans, forests, and weather. Check out Gabby Pahinui, Sonny Chillingworth, or Jeff Peterson.
Supernatural Stories – Many of my supernatural stories have a musical element of their own, so traditional New Orleans jazz helps me here. See Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Harry Connick Jr., or any of the Marsalis family.
Mystery – I love writing mystery, and whether fully dramatic or with an element of humor, I generally write in a noir style. So Melody Gardot or Edith Piaf are excellent at providing that dark, smoky nightclub setting.
Deep Space – Where no one can hear you scream, I lean on composers Mahler or Wagner to make me feel small. Pink Floyd works too.
Fight Scenes – When my characters need to get down and dirty and knock a few heads, or get theirs rattled as well, some Fatboy Slim or The Crystal Method helps with the fast choreography.
Romantic Interludes – Occasionally my characters hook up—who can blame them—and when they do, only Barry White provides the mood. Is there anyone else?
Emotional Scenes – If some soul-searching or a good cry is needed—I’m talking about my main character here—Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of Bach’s cello concertos never fails.
Scenes in Hell or with the Devil – When you write speculative fiction, it can happen, and nothing portrays the Dark One better than some shredding guitar like Buckethead, Michael Angelo Batio, or Yngwie Malmsteen. Freaky fingers!
Action Sequences – For car chases and general mayhem, I look no further than some 80s arena rock like AC/DC, Quiet Riot, or Rush.
Happy Endings (not that kind…) – When everything comes together and there are just good vibes all around, try some Matisyahu or G. Love. You’ll want to just kick back and take everything in.
BONUS: Bills & Taxes – Okay, this isn’t creative writing per se (don’t tell the IRS), but when music is needed to help me power through the bureaucratic aspect of life, some Rage Against the Machine or System of a Down helps me get through.
What have I missed here? When other musical genres or specific musicians help the creative juices flow? Let me know in the comments.