NaNo Prep: Using Music to Get into a Writing Mood

by Jami Gold on October 23, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Headphones with text: Using Music to Get into a Writing Mood

Last time, we shared suggestions on how to kick our muse into gear. One of my favorite techniques is using music. With NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month—challenge yourself to write 50K words during November) fast approaching, now is the perfect time to revisit all the ways music can help our writing.

On a day-to-day basis, music—er, rocks my writing in three ways. I use the noise to block out distractions. I use the beat of the songs to pressure myself into typing faster. And I use the mood of the music to evoke the right mindset for the scene.

Six Techniques for Using Music to Help Our Muse

I’ve used music in several additional ways too. Here are six techniques for using music to help our muse:

  1. Use music to get in the mood. My friend Lynn Raye Harris listens to belly dance stations on Pandora while she’s writing a love scene.  A Linkin Park station might be good for fight scenes.
  2. Use music as a memory trigger. Need to write a heart-breaking scene of betrayal?  Try playing the songs you moped to after a bad breakup and tap into those emotions.  This can be a great way to write a happy scene when you’re upset or vice versa.
  3. Use music to identify a theme. Just like movies or characters can have a theme song (Darth Vader anyone?), so can our stories.  If a song feels like it “fits” your story, analyze how it makes you feel.  Maybe that will help you figure out the theme or emotional heart of your story or characters.
  4. Use music to inspire ideas. Reading the lyrics to songs might give your muse a concept to run with for a new scene or plot point. One song created a picture in my head that fit a character so perfectly I thought of a whole new subplot for a story.
  5. Use music to increase your focus. Listening to music with headphones or earbuds can help block out distractions around us.  I’ve trained my brain to think of listening-to-music time as “work time”—no Twitter, email, or surfing when the music is playing.
  6. Use music to create a soundtrack for your story. Some websites link to songs on the internet and let you play them in a certain order.  Play the “soundtrack” for a story while writing or editing the matching scene.

Lately, I’ve been running into trouble with that first usage: Use music to get in the mood. Most of my playlists are soundtracks for action-type movies (my current favorite is the soundtrack for Inception) or alternative-rock groups like Linkin Park. Great for writing faster, not so good for matching the moods of my scenes, like, oh say…for a sweet love scene. *smile*

In thinking about this issue, I came up with different moods that might apply to our scenes. Each of these moods would probably require different types of music. We can share our suggestions for matching music in the comments.

Moods of Scenes

  • Confident/Triumphant
  • Amused/Blissful
  • Flirty/Sexy
  • Relief/Bittersweet
  • Calm/Hopeful
  • Lonely/Hurt
  • Ashamed/Disgust
  • Pride/Envy
  • Frustrated/Angry
  • Depressed/Defeated
  • Dread/Desperation
  • Anguish/Terror

That’s certainly not an exhaustive list of moods for our scenes, but it covers a wide variety. My current collection covers the bottom third of the list well, but I’d like to add songs, albums, and playlists for all the moods.

I’ve used sites like Playlist.com, Grooveshark, SpotifyPandora, and Songza. (Yes, I really like working to music. *smile*) Playlist, Grooveshark, and Spotify all allow you to customize a specific playlist to create a soundtrack. Pandora and Songza both use different methods of creating “stations” you passively listen to. I haven’t played with Songza much, but they have collections for different moods/settings, so I might need to dig into their options more.

They all have their pros and cons. The free version of some of the sites is more annoying with advertising than others. I haven’t decided that I like one overwhelmingly more than any of the others to justify buying an upgrade account, however. Besides, I like having options to suit my mood and not overdose on one station or playlist. I want variety in my songs, albums, playlists, and music sources. *smile*

Do you try to match music to the mood of the scene you’re writing? Are some moods harder to match up with music? Which online music services do you use and like? Do you have suggestions for songs, albums, or playlists for certain moods? Please share (with links if you have them) in the comments!

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33 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Melinda S. Collins October 23, 2012 at 6:36 am

Ooo, my absolute favorite topic when it comes to writing. :D Love, love, love my music and I absolutely could not function without it. Whether I’m at the dayjob or at home writing, it must be playing in the background. And I do find myself using it get into the mood of writing by playing a certain song in the car on the way home. That way I’m focused by the time I walk in the door and start writing. :)

I definitely try to match the mood/feel/vibe of the music I’m playing with the scene or character I’m writing, and there are a lot of moods that are harder to match up. So when I come across those, I usually focus on the character(s) themselves instead, and that usually inspires the mood I’m looking for.

I don’t really use online music services that much. Every now and then I’ll use I Heart Radio or Pandora, but I mostly go with my own music collection (the one that’s so large, I have to remove/add/alternate albums because I’ve maxed out the 30gig memory – LOL!).

Here’s a few song/album/band suggestions – most are from my current WIP playlist that ranges from Breaking Benjamin, Linkin Park, Muse, and Rob Zombie, Metallica and Bon Jovi:
–Lifehouse – Nerve Damage, & Breaking Benjamin – Give Me a Sign & Breath <– Really great for the lonely/hurt mood
–Breaking Benjamin – So Cold, Lights Out <– Love this for those angry moods
–Muse – Supremecy & Survival, Breaking Benjamin – I Will Not Bow, Until The End <– Confident/Triumphant
–Halestorm – Love Bites (So Do I), Beautiful With You <– Flirty/Sexy

–Favorite Bands/Singers for Writing: The Spill Canvas (have some really great songs for lonely, intimate, hurt moods), Lifehouse, Breaking Bejamin, Muse, Linkin Park, Halestorm, Rob Zombie, Ozzy, 30 Seconds to Mars, Godsmack, Evanescence, Tori Amos, Metallica, The White Stripes, and the list goes on and on. I take a little from every band and toss in some older tunes from Bon Jovi, Kansas, Foreigner, Journey, AC/DC, Lynard Skynyrd, and Boston.

–Favorite Writing Soundtracks: Blade (all 3 movies), August Rush, James Bond (the latest Daniel Craig movies, especially Casino Royale), The Dark Knight, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Pearl Harbor, Transformers (all 3 movies), Underworld (all movies), and X-Men: First Class.

Whew! That was a lot! :)

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Tami October 23, 2012 at 9:01 am

Loving your list, Melinda!

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Melinda S. Collins October 23, 2012 at 10:20 am

Thanks, Tami! :)

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Jami Gold October 23, 2012 at 9:27 am

Hi Melinda,

Ooo, I knew I could count on you. I think I already copied one of your Grooveshark playlists. :)

Love your idea to play music on the way home from work to get ready for writing. That’s a great idea!

And I love, love, love your suggestions! *hugs* Thank you for the comment!

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Melinda S. Collins October 23, 2012 at 10:23 am

Hi Jami –

Absolutely! You know when it comes to music, I’m always there! ;)

Oh, thanks for the reminder! I have to add my latest WIP playlist to Grooveshark. Hopefully I can get that done here within the next week or so. :) Glad you love the suggestions! *hugs* :D

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Jami Gold October 23, 2012 at 10:47 am

Hi Melinda,

Ooo, and you will share the link with me, right? ;)

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Melinda S. Collins October 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Haha – ABSOLUTELY! ;)

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Carradee October 23, 2012 at 7:24 am

I’m a self-professed music junkie, and you’ve hit the nail on the head for why. I use music for all those purposes—for focus, for themes, for moods, for types… and not only for my fiction. I use it for my day job—freelance writer & editor—too. I hear Red (Christian metal, some grunge influence), I’m ready to write non-fiction.

Granted, I also try to be careful, so that I don’t tie a song too closely to something. A previous NaNoWriMo means that “In Pieces” by Linkin Park immediately gets me thinking about that story. That makes it easier to work on, because that particular story is dark enough that I can’t work on it too much at once, for fear of my mental health, but not something I want to be in the habit of. I’d like to be able to change song assignations. :)

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Carradee October 23, 2012 at 7:27 am

And if you really want me to talk about favorite bands…

Within Temptation
Apocalyptica
Trading Yesterday
Emilie Autumn
Delain
Linkin Park
Three Days Grace
BarlowGirl
Superchic[k]
Blackmore’s Night
SJ Tucker
Kelly Clarkson
UnSun
Nemesea
Virgin Black
Gregorian

…for a start. ;-)

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Jami Gold October 23, 2012 at 9:32 am

Hi Carradee,

Ooo, great list! I know I love Within Temptation. I’ve gotten several scene ideas from their songs, but I’d forgotten about them. I need to check out the others too. Thanks so much for sharing!

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Jami Gold October 23, 2012 at 9:30 am

Hi Carradee,

Yes, I was trying out Songza more as I was writing this blog post. And I know what you mean about tying a song too closely to some writing. I’m afraid my Inception soundtrack is too tied to my last WIP, which is another reason I’m desperate to find more. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Amanda October 23, 2012 at 7:42 am

I’ve said this a few times on my own blog, but while music is a huge inspiration for my writing, I actually can’t listen to it while writing (unless it has no lyrics, but even then, it doesn’t always work). But I do create playlists and stick them on my mp3 player and listen to them when I’m trying to think through a scene or chapter before writing it. Then I post them in the Playlists section of my blog :)

One of my favorite groups to listen to when I need something lonely or depressing is Horse Feathers. Probably not the best endorsement of the band, but their sound is a PERFECT match for those sorts of scenes-spare, haunting, and quite lovely. Unless the scene in question requires more angst, then I go for Jimmy Eat World or Get Up Kids. Fight scenes? Nothing beats some good ol’ Rage Against the Machine, or my personal favorite, Lostprophets. And for some reason, I end up listening to a lot of trip-hop and dub step (think Lamb, Massive Attack, and Thievery Corporation). You know, like background music in a salon :)

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Jami Gold October 23, 2012 at 9:36 am

Hi Amanda,

I’m actually the opposite. I often have to turn music off for brainstorming. Not all the time, but enough that I’ve noticed that behavior. :)

Yay! Wonderful list. I know I love Massive Attack. (Geeze, all these groups I’d forgotten about…LOL!) I’ll definitely check out the rest. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the comment!

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Tami October 23, 2012 at 8:58 am

I like the soundtrack to Nier (a video game). It’s fantastic and the lack of english vocals makes it less distracting than many kinds of music.

my playlist : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5xZbJDZZo4&feature=share&list=PL3A560A7DFBBBBC89

Also, if there are any anime fans out there — Naruto’s soundtrack follows Jami’s moods of scenes list incredibly well. =]

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Jami Gold October 23, 2012 at 9:38 am

Hi Tami,

Oh cool! Thanks for sharing the link–I’ll definitely check that out. Usually lyrics don’t bother me, but I know they bother many people. Thanks for the comment!

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Melinda S. Collins October 23, 2012 at 10:24 am

Hey Tami! I never actually thought about adding in video game soundtracks. I think some of the Final Fantasy soundtracks would make a great addition. And I’ll have to get the hubs to tell me about the Naruto soundtrack – sounds awesome! :)

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Tami October 23, 2012 at 11:12 am

The Naruto soundtrack is amazingly well set up. If I remember, the tracks are even named things like “battle” and “rising action” and “playtime”. It’s great!

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Jami Gold October 23, 2012 at 11:14 am

Oh, that sounds awesome, Tami! Thanks!

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Carradee October 23, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I love the Blood+ soundtrack, myself. :D

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Buffy Armstrong October 23, 2012 at 10:56 am

I love, love, love music when I write. Sometimes I play a few songs before I write just to chill out and get in the mood. Or dance around the office to let off some steam. I have playlists for most stories and I’ve started to pin songs to my Pinterest boards. Just another way I’ve come up with to waste time!

I have a tendency to lean more towards folkish type music when I write:
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Brandi Carlile
Amos Lee
The Lumineers
Mumford & Sons
Scars on 45
John Gorka
Arlo Guthrie
Serena Ryder
Neko Case
April Smith & the Great Picture Show

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Jami Gold October 23, 2012 at 11:13 am

Hi Buffy,

“I’ve started to pin songs to my Pinterest boards.

Oh fun! I never thought of that before. Great idea and a time suck all in one. LOL!

Thanks for sharing your list–I’ll add those to my “to check out” list I’ve started with this post. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Rabia October 23, 2012 at 11:29 am

I usually listen to music while I write (maybe because it helps drown out kid noise *grin*). I prefer instrumental to music with lyrics. If I can’t match music to the mood of a scene, I go for something non-distracting, like piano music. For sweeping action scenes, I turn to movie soundtracks.

Occasionally, a song will perfectly match a scene or a character. It’s great when that happens, but I don’t go looking too hard for it.

My favorite musicians/soundtracks are:

Loreena McKennit
Gaelic Storm
Philip Wesley (piano)
David Garret (violin)
Pirates of the Caribbean
Sarah Brightman
Lord of the Rings
Requiem For A Dream
Nightwish
Blackmore’s Night

…and I should stop now. :D I love music! My current obsession is the Skyrim soundtrack.

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Jami Gold October 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Hi Rabia,

Ooo, I love soundtracks for exactly that “sweeping” mood you mentioned. Thanks for adding to my list–those sound great! :) Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee October 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Just some suggestions you might like, considering what you’ve mentioned:

Heather Dale
soundtrack for Blood+
Emilie Autumn
Apocalyptica (has some instrumental tracks)
Virgin Black (check out the song “Requiem, Kyrie”)
And don’t forget Vivaldi’s Four Seasons… :)

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Rabia October 25, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Thanks, Carradee.

I love Vivaldi. :)

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John Holton October 23, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I have a tendency to get more involved with the music than with the writing if I’m not careful. I usually find it easier to write with nature sounds (specifically rain) or white (or pink or brown) noise. I have a program called AudioTest that generates noise, and a number of recordings of rain and thunderstorms that I both write to and that helps me sleep.

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Jami Gold October 24, 2012 at 6:16 am

Hi John,

Interesting! I often fall asleep to the nature sounds from a white noise machine, so they probably wouldn’t help me. :) (Typing, typing, snooze… LOL!) It seems like at least one of the online music services (maybe Songza?) has nature and white noise type “stations.” Thanks for the comment!

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ChemistKen October 24, 2012 at 7:06 am

I used to play a wide range of music styles when I wrote; New Age, Lisa Gerrard, Coldplay, etc., but I discovered that if I enjoy the song too much, I can’t concentrate on writing. :( Now I play blood pumping music before I begin to write and switch over to soft ambient music when I start the word processor. Sometimes I play my recordings of thunderstorms. The thunder keeps me awake.

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Jami Gold October 24, 2012 at 7:26 am

Hi ChemistKen,

LOL! Thunder–that’s what I was missing from my nature sounds to keep me awake. :) That sounds like a great system. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the comment!

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Serena October 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm

“Skyfall” by Adele sounds perfect for a climactic fantasy or fantasy and romance scene.

Some love songs that will go well with a variety of romance scenes/ stories:

(Prepare for a very long list)

Sad, dark, or dangerous romance:

Somewhere—Within Temptation <–my favorite band!
I Surrender—-Celine Dion
Bad Day—David Powter
Leave Out All the Rest—Linkin Park
Mirror Mirror—M2M
Wuthering Heights—-Kate Bush or Hayley Westerna
On My Own—-Les Miserables

Happy or dreamy romance:

Every Time We Touch—-Cascada
Wherever You Are —-Laava
Halo —Beyonce
Teenage Dream— Katy Perry
Are You the One—-Within Temptation <—my favorite love song ever
My Heart Will Go On—-Celine Dion (can't forget this one!)
I Want You to Need Me—-Celine Dion
Safe and Sound—Taylor Swift
I Lay My Love On You —Westlife
My Love—Westlife
Can't Fight the Moonlight—Leann Rimes
Listen to Your Heart—Roxanne
Happy Together—The Turtles
I Can Be Your Hero—Enrique Iglesias
Can You Feel the Love Tonight—-Lion King
Love Will Find a Way—also Lion King!
Pretty Boy—M2M
Everything You Do—M2M
Vanilla Twilight—-Owl City
Sweet Dream—-Beyonce
Take Me On the Floor—the Veronicas

Yeah I know I'm biased towards the happy side, because I prefer to write about happy things. :D

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Jami Gold October 25, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Hi Serena,

Ooo, that’s a great list. I needed more suggestions for the happy side. :) Those are fabulous ideas. Thank you so much!

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