Music to Write/Work By

I wrote this post about a year-and-a-half ago. Way back in the earliest stages of my Patheos blogging, a couple days after Elizabeth gave me the keys to the place. But for some reason, I never published it. Too nervous, I think. For reasons that are still unclear to me. (I have over 200 drafts stored up in this thing. Most of them are stubs; mere reminders of something I want to write about, if I ever get the chance/have something worth saying. But 18-20 are full-blown posts. For some reason, I just can’t pull the trigger.)

This LifeHacker piece, “The Best Sounds For Getting Work Done,” finally convinced me to “git ‘er done.” I have no idea why.


A recent Open Culture post on the best music to listen to while writing couldn’t have come at a better time for my freshly-blogging self. I don’t agree with all of the suggestions listed, but the topic is a great one:

Writing is hard. It’s hard to begin, hard to continue, hard to finish. To write successfully and consistently requires an alchemical combination of discipline and inspiration so personal that reading advice on the subject amounts to watching someone else die to learn how it’s done. And while it often feels enlightening to read about the habits of, say, Steinbeck or Austen, their methods are non-transferable. You’ve got to find your own way. So it is with writing to music. It’s always there in the background, goading you on quietly.

I’m not sure about other writers, but I’m virtually certain I don’t listen to music while writing to take advantage of its “goading” properties. I prefer something that soothes my spirit a touch rather than riling it. …which is why the Writing Music I tend to favor — or the expanded “Working Music,” thanks to Lifehacker — is usually on the simpler side in terms of the complexity of its sound (if not melodically).

As a self-admitted Bachophile, I’m sure it will come as no surprise that his Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould’s 1981 version, of course) or his French Suites (particularly Andras Schiff’s live performances of BWV 816 and 817) are near the top of my “Must-Have Music For Writing/Working” list. Schubert’s Trout Quintet is a firm favorite, and so are Vivaldi’s Concerti for Lutes and Mandolins. I’ll even listen to a bit of folk music, as long as it’s fairly unobtrusive. And, in most cases, Irish. (Mychael and Jeff Danna: Come on down! And bring Julie Fowlis right along with you!)

When writing about films, I take a slightly different tack: rather than selecting a piece because it will not intrude on my consciousness, I like to pick a distinctive cut from the soundtrack precisely because it is memorable. The recollections it evokes help to keep my emotional responses to the film fresh in my mind. Listening to Joe Hisaishi’s meltingly moving “Okuribito” helped focus my thoughts on “Departures” immeasurably. So did Joe Henry’s “Wave” during the creation of my “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers” piece.  (I just realized this last point is probably a huge part of why I like writing about Westerns.)

Which reminds me…Sometimes when I’m particularly blocked (of having a particularly difficult day in the office), I listen to Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold.” Works every time. An incontrovertible truth, but one for which I can offer absolutely no explanation.

Any other “Listen While You Write/Work-ers” out there? What do you like to put on when the writing bug bites — a favorite bit that helps to loosen the authorly purse strings when they’re being particularly stingy? And what about background music in the office? Any tried-and-true melodies to help you get through the day(s)? Or do you prefer plain, old-fashioned silence?

Attribution(s): "Workin' and Listenin'" provided by Unsplash's Michael Mroczek, whose work is made available via a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) license.