October 23, 2012

NaNo Prep: Using Music to Get into a Writing Mood

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, 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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Melinda S. Collins

Ooo, my absolute favorite topic when it comes to writing. 😀 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…  — Read More »


Loving your list, Melinda!

Melinda S. Collins

Thanks, Tami! 🙂


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. 🙂


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

Within Temptation
Trading Yesterday
Emilie Autumn
Linkin Park
Three Days Grace
Blackmore’s Night
SJ Tucker
Kelly Clarkson
Virgin Black

…for a start. 😉


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 🙂


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 :

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

Melinda S. Collins

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! 🙂


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!


I love the Blood+ soundtrack, myself. 😀

Buffy Armstrong

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


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
Blackmore’s Night

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


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… 🙂


Thanks, Carradee.

I love Vivaldi. 🙂

John Holton

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.


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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“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. 😀


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