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This Writing Life: Writing and Music, Part 1

12 August, 2014

It’s fair to say that I’m a big fan of music. I’ve never played an instrument, but since my early teenage years I must have spent thousands of pounds on CDs, attending concerts, and various other music paraphernalia. (I did once do a rough estimate on what my CD collection had cost me up to that point; I think it came out at over £1000, and that was years ago, before I’d even left school.) I’ve been a semi-stalker/groupie of my favourite metal bands, I’ve travelled all over the country to see them play I’ve been to a festival in Germany twice, and there was a time when I was never out of a band t-shirt.

These days, I still attend gigs, still buy CDs and – most importantly for the purposes of this post – still glue myself to Spotify whenever I sit down to write. (Incidentally, if you want to know what I’ve been listening to recently, follow the link in the sidebar to my Last.fm page.) I’ve discovered, over time, that I can use music in a number of ways to actually make myself write, to improve my concentration, and to make myself write for longer.

Now, I know there are plenty of writers out there who need (or at least think they need) perfect silence in which to write. I might once have been one of them. However, by the time I was at university, I’d discovered that the rest of the world (a.k.a. everywhere that wasn’t the very rural landscape I grew up in) wasn’t very good at providing perfect silence. Music, then, became a way to block out other distractions and allow me to focus on my writing.

There’s one method, then: music as distraction. If the world around you is busy and frantic, putting on a pair of headphones with something soothing in them can be the perfect way to improve your mood and concentration. I’ve found Spotify particularly invaluable here, as they provide a number of ever-changing playlists designed specifically for these purposes (I’m listening to one called ‘Deep Focus’ right now – it’s almost entirely instrumental). Nothing lets me shut out the world quite like music, and with these playlists I can simply sit down at the computer, put one on, and think about nothing save the words on my page.

However, there are times when choosing a specific song or album can be equally invaluable. Sometimes that can be a means of providing a specific mood for a piece of writing, about which I’ll say more in my next post. When any music will do, though, I find putting on a full album particularly helpful when I’m struggling to focus on writing. This album is just 50 minutes long, I tell myself. All you have to do is sit here for 50 minutes and try to write something. No walking away from the computer until the album has finished.

Nearly always, by the time the music has finished, I’ll have written, and frequently find myself putting on more music to push myself for, say, another 50 minutes. You could use a timer in the same way, but I’m a bit of a stickler for listening to a whole album once I’ve started, so music works far better to keep me in my seat than a simple timer ever could.

So, I’ve talked about music as distraction, to improve your frame of mind, and to keep you in your seat. In my next post, I’ll be looking at specific music for specific projects: as a means of creating mood, getting into the heads of your characters, and even inspiring whole stories.

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