Countdown to NaNoWriMo: 28 days


What’s the soundtrack for your writing?

I ask because, for me, I need more aural stimulus than just the sounds of a clacking keyboard or a pen scratching on paper. I find I absolutely need background noise to be productive, and the least disruptive background noise to other people is anything I have pumping through my headphones.

As I’ve discovered that a lot of my most productive NaNoWriMo writing has come at write-ins, and many write-ins come at coffee shops, I ended up creating for myself a big Spotify playlist based off of Starbucks pick of the week tracks. It’s great background music without being hugely intrusive, so it’s something of my default soundtrack when I’m writing at home.

If I want something different, I tend to look towards film scores. Being instrumental, I don’t find myself distracted and singing along to lyrics or even typing them as I write. The other great thing about movie scores is that they are designed to underscore scenes with specific moods and so it can become useful to pick certain tracks if you’re writing a scene that might have that mood. For example, if I’m writing fairly dark, desperate battle scenes then having something like “The Bridge of Khazad Dum” from the Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack.


Last year, I was writing a superhero story for my NaNoWriMo project and thanks to the absolute glut of superhero movies in recent years, I was able to listen to essentially nothing but superhero scores for the entire duration of the project. I don’t think narrowing my soundtrack focus like that really paid off and don’t think I’d repeat that genre restriction for 2013, especially as I’m not entirely sure what genre I’ll even be writing in.


I know some people who are able to write even with television or movies going on as their background noise. I’ve tried that approach and I don’t have the focus or the attention span to manage that without getting sucked into the narrative and just not writing. If you can manage that, more power to you, but it’s a compartmentalization level I’m unable to achieve.


Of course, not all background noise for writing is music. At write-ins, I honestly prefer the susurrus of people in conversation and the general energy of people as something to feed off of. It energizes me in the weirdest way. One place that I find is full of energy and inspiration is an airport lounge, so if you have to travel, get there even earlier than you have to and just sit with your notebook or laptop and drink in the sounds of the people there.


Also, for anyone reading this who’s local to my area, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has a great little café, called Best, for writing in. It has a terrace and reflecting pool and large windows for inspiration from outside, a decent background hum from the people there and good coffee. And if you hit a case of writer’s block, a few minutes wandering the exhibits can really re-invigorate the mind. I’m not associated with them in any way, but it’s probably my second favorite place to write, especially during the summer when they have live jazz bands.

(Photo by Carlos Koblischek)


8 thoughts on “Countdown to NaNoWriMo: 28 days

  1. When I’m writing, I tend to pick one song and set it on loop for the session. I find music really captivating, so if I have a changing soundtrack I find I get too distracted appreciating the beauty of the music and I don’t get nearly as much writing done. Putting one pop song on loop lets me block out the noise around me, but the song itself stops being interesting by the third or fourth repetition, so I can actually concentrate on my writing.The song itself usually has little bearing on what I’m actually writing.

    I keep hearing people talk about listening to soundtracks when they’re working, though, and the idea seems really appealing. I wonder if I can find a way to make it work, and still keep productivity!

    • Go with whatever works for you. The idea of just listening to one song on a loop over and over again would drive me completely and utterly insane. I had “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers stuck in my head for days and that was bad enough without actually playing it.

      Another thing I’ve heard suggested is to create a soundtrack to the novel after writing it, by selecting a song that matches a chapter’s tone. I guess it’d be neat to try, but my music taste doesn’t dovetail enough with my writing thoughts for that to work.

  2. I’m writing a YA Paranormal novel so I find the music from the Vampire Diaries soundtrack works for me. The music is very mystical and melodic. It’s beautiful. Perfect for a supernatural tone. My favorite songs include “Beauty of the Dark” by Mads Langer. “All I Need” by Within Temptation. “Cut” by Plumb. “Running up That Hill” by Placebo. And a few songs by Bat for Lashes.

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