Listening to Music While Writing: a Necessity or a Distraction?

This is what happens more often than not when I'm listening to music while writing.

Image courtesy of flickr user The Smurf.

I know that for many authors, listening to music is a great way to get into the “zone,” to fade out the real world and focus on the one they’re creating. And I’ve had moments when listening to music while writing really did seem to get the words flowing. But I’ve also had a lot of times when I’ve used music as a distraction.

You know what it looks like: “Ugh. This dialogue is messy. Wait, what is this song?” Followed by a complete disruption of writing to find out the song title/artist before skipping it — which often devolves into spending the next three hours devising the ever-elusive PERFECT WRITING MIX.

Does music help you write?

My answer is: it depends. It depends on my set of mind, what I’m writing, what I’m listening to. Whether the words are flowing or I’m fighting to get them on the page. I’ve noticed it tends to help me more with writing that I find easier (blog posts, journal keeping, proofreading), rather than writing that is more challenging, creative or slippery (plotting, trying to get a scene right).

I’m a bit torn about listening to music, because I love it and my first instinct is always OF COURSE when the question of, “Music?” arises. And when music works with my writing, it works really well. But when the writing gets hard, the music I have on tends to become an out, a distraction I can latch onto to avoid facing the challenge in front of me.

So, what do I put in my ears while I’m writing?

I’m always looking for alternatives to music. Some things I’ve tried or that might work better than just putting iTunes on shuffle:

  • Putting on instrumental music that matches the mood of my work. Jazz and classical are my favorites.
  • I have a couple of tried-and-true mixes full of songs I’m always in the mood to listen to. If I’m feeling like I want music but don’t want to be left with a “WTH am I listening, Pandora?!?” moment, I’ll pop on one of these babies.
  • Ear plugs. Jussayin’.
  • I heard (though I can’t find a source to confirm this) that early Stephen King used to write at a desk next to the washing machine. A nice, out-of-the-way space with built-in white noise! Personally, I love writing at laundromats.
  • Listening to a white noise generator has proved helpful for when I need to focus/block out my surroundings. I’ve tried White Noise Lite on my iPhone, and it’s quite satisfactory. You can even mix different sounds—I love the idea of creating tracks similar to what my character might be hearing (people talking on a train, or crickets chirping on the beach). What a perfect way to put myself in the scene!

Does music work for your writing? Do you have tips for listening to music while writing?

A Writer is Someone Who Writes

writing a novel, becoming a writer, writing inspiration

Ok. I’m going to say it. Just…just promise not to laugh, ok? And promise not to roll your eyes.

Here it is: I’m writing a novel.

Whew. Glad to get that off my chest! What a relief.

And I don’t mean I am writing a novel, vaguely. I’ve decided: this is the year. I’m going to finish my novel. I’m going to rewrite it to death into the best possible version of what I can make. And then I’m going to start the publishing process. I’m committed.

I guess I’ve had a bit of a turning point in the last six months. When I was younger, whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say a writer. But I was unconvinced of it. It was always what I wanted to be as an adult, not what I was going to be. And even as a (sort of) adult, it remained some hazy idea that I was unsure I could solidify. I didn’t know if I could make it happen.

So what changed? My attitude, I guess. I started thinking about writing more, in large part thanks to NaNoWriMo. It slowly started to seep into my consciousness in a solid way that the only think that separates authors from aspiring authors is a bit (okay, a lot) of time, sweat, and effort. The only thing that keeps me from being a novelist is, well, writing a novel.

The words of a favorite creative writing teacher I had come to mind, again and again: “A writer is someone who writes,” he said. And it’s stuck with me, because it’s not, “A writer is someone who writes 2,000 words a day,” or “writes for 78 hours a week,” ” has written a novel,” “is published,” or, “has written a best-seller.” Nope.

A writer is someone who writes.

To me, that means that mentally committing yourself to the act of writing makes you a writer. Committing to my writing, as something I’m going to make a priority: that makes me a writer. Sitting down and taking the time to write, no matter how long, how often, or how much, makes me a writer.

I get to decide for myself what being a writer means. Do I need writing snacks? Do I need to write first thing in the morning? Is my writing time blocked out by elaborate routines and rituals? I dunno. Maybe. If that helps. But my writing efforts will look different than others’. It will be unique to me. I’ll have my own crazy writer moments. And all of that is okay—as long as, ultimately, I keep writing. As long I am someone who writes, I’m claiming the title of Writer.