20 June 2012

"with the sound of music": writing playlists

This past year I learned my love of music also
extended to the glorious karaoke stage :)
I am a big fan of music. All kinds. I think I listen to music in every genre, from Soul to Industrial Metal, Easy Listening to Hardcore, and everything in between.

Most days I can't manage to listen to music and write at the same time (or, write very much) because I get caught up in the melody and harmony, and before I know it my hands have dropped my pen or left the keys and I'm tapping out a rhythm on the arm of my chair or back of my notebook and singing along.

But lately I've found that listening to music engages me more and more in the creative process. A word might trigger an idea. A melody might move me in a particular way that I can only express on paper. A band name might be reworked into a poem title or potential chapbook name.

When it comes to what kind of music I listen to when I'm writing, well, things get a little complicated. It's namely because I'll listen to just about anything with a good rhythm and melody. I try to write to music that easily fades into the background, but that never really works for me (for all the above listed reasons). But I think I can safely break my writerly music preferences down like this: When I need to concentrate, it's instrumental; when I need to be inspired, it can be vocal; when I'm working on National Novel Writing Month, it's completely randomized.

To give you a taste of my musical pallet, here are three of my writing playlists. The first two are completely genuine writing playlists; the third, however, is an example of what would happen if I was writing a novel. More on that in a bit!

Instrumental Tracks:
Ennio Morricone: The Legend of the Pianist (???)
Michael Giacchino: Moving On (LOST: The Final Season)
Claude Debussy: 2 Arabesques: Arabesque No. 1
Michael Giacchino: Coffee or Something (The Family Stone)
Jelly Roll Morton: Spanish Swat
Jian Wang: Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: I. Prelude
Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra: Rhapsody in Blue
Haydn Quartet, Budapest: String Quartet No. 2 in D Major, III. Notturno: Andante

Vocal Tracks:
Sweet Honey in the Rock: Patchwork Quilt
John Williams: Dry Your Tears Afrika (Amistad)
Randy Newman: When I'm Gone
Lizz Wright: Song for Mia
Birdy: Without a Word
Patty Griffin: Calling Me Home
Sweet Honey in the Rock: Wanting Memories
Ray LaMontagne: Can I Stay
Esperanza Spalding: Fall In

(And, just for kicks...)

A National Novel Writing Month Style Playlist*:

1. Seal: Fly Like An Eagle
2. Joe Sample feat. Lizz Wright: Fool's Gold
3. Jill Scott: Love Rain
4. Zee Avi: First of the Gang
5. Nancy Wilson: Here's That Rainy Day
6. Over the Rhine: The Trumpet Child
7. Ella Fitzgerald: A Tisket, A Tasket
8. Landon Pigg: Falling In Love In A Coffee Shop
9. Dinah Washington: Cry Me a River
10. John Legend: Coming Home
11. La Bien Querida: De Momento Abril
12. Ceu: Mais Um Lamento
13. The Black Keys: Have Love Will Travel
14. Sophie B. Hawkins: As I Lay Me Down to Sleep
15. Norah Jones: The Prettiest Thing
16. Bryan Adams: (Everything I Do) I Do it for You
17. Rhema Soul: Why's It Gotta Be So Hard
18. Michael Giacchino: A Whole Family of Supers
19. Patty Griffin: The Longer You Wait
20. Dick Hyman: Prelude 2 Well Tempered Clavier
21. The Beatles: I Am The Walrus
22. Beckah Shae: I'm Beautiful
23. Needtobreathe: Washed By the Water
24. Hezekiah Walker & The Love Fellowship Choir: I Need You To Survive
25. Lucio Alves: Ela e Carioca

* When I'm writing a NaNoWriMo novel, I usually create a playlist for the novel that is completely random. Let's say I'm writing a zombie apocalypse novel (like I did this past November). I'll typically come up with at least fifteen chapter "headings" (a general idea of what will happen in each chapter). I'll then open my music player, set it to "Shuffle", and hit play. The first fifteen songs that play go on the playlist, unchanged, not arranged, no editing. It's always a fun experiment because you'll always wind up with a song that fits so perfectly, and a song that doesn't work at all. Let's say, for example, in the above playlist Chapter 8 was "MC meets his future wife"---well, that song works perfectly, and might inspire the scene in which they meet. But let's say the chapter is "MC zombie battle" ... suddenly it's not so perfect. I love this, though, because it helps me find ways to "make" the song fit. Maybe, as he's fighting, my main character simultaneously reflects on when he first fell in love. Or maybe it's the song playing in the room while he tries to keep a zombie from biting him. Maybe it's not present at all in the scene but the juxtaposition, in my mind, makes the moment even creepier because they're so disparate.

Your Turn: Do you ever use music in your writing? If you're a novelist, have you ever created a novel playlist? Give this a shot --- set a timer for 15 minutes and set your music player to "shuffle." Press play and start writing; write to whatever song is playing, and switch gears if necessary as the songs change. See how many changes and shifts you see happen in that 15 minute time!

Want to stay connected? I invite you to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And sign up for free email updates from this blog in the top right corner of the page.


Check out these previous Personal Update Wednesday posts on Our Lost Jungle:


  1. I have Lizz Wright's Oya as my ringback tone! I now love to get phone calls even from wrong numbers.

    1. I love her, Lara ... Her voice is just beautiful. If you like her and haven't already, you might like India Arie, Esperanza Spalding, and Madeleine Peyroux! They're all some of my favorite artists.

  2. Hi Khara!! I often write poetry to wordless music, the songs with lyrics confuse my inner voice too much! Often I'll be inspired by music with words but when writing I have to switch it up. Two of my favorite artists for awhile now is Scott August and Andreas Vollenweider.

    I enjoyed reading your lists!! Smiles to you!

    1. Hannah, I agree---so often even the most lyrically provocative songs are too much during writing time (unless I'm using it as an exercise). I've found that for me I can only listen to instrumental tracks when writing poetry, but lean toward lyric-based songs when writing fiction; perhaps connecting the voice to what the character is expressing. (And, more than once, a character has decided to reference the very song I was listening to as being significant to something he or she was going through ... what a coincidence!) :)


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

Featured Post

Sankofa: The Power of Known History

I recently took on two challenges in the sphere of political and cultural advocacy: understanding the roots of our democracy and national l...