Young black woman listening music while writing

Music While You Write?

By John Prince

There has been a lot of discussion on whether writers should listen to music when they write. And the answer is a definite “maybe.”

There are authors who need complete silence when working. The noise of the neighbor’s lawnmower can drive them into a frenzy. Others, like the teenager who can only study if the music is on full blast, prefer to go the other way.

It appears that there may be some benefits in listening while you work. Studies with computer engineers show that those who listen to music while they work tend to be in better moods, produce work with fewer mistakes, and work more efficiently.

Of course, for many writers, the type of music and the task at hand need to meld. Blasting out AC/DC while writing a delicate nature scenario may not match. Hells Bells may be more conducive to authoring a chapter about a street brawl. On the other hand, A Little Night Music may not work if you are creating a battle scene.

Music, on average, works better than anti-anxiety medication at putting us in a better mood. One study found that patients who listened to music before surgery were less stressed than patients who took anti-anxiety meds. It makes sense: If music can elevate your mood, being in a good mood might elevate your productivity and cut down on mistakes.

But, most studies agree, a lot depends on (1) the individual, and (2) the type of music.

If you think music is just a bunch of noise, forget about it. It’s not going to work.

If you enjoy music, think about the type. Music with complex lyrics may be distracting because you will be trying to listen to the words while creating your own words. Maybe very familiar lyrics—you don’t have to think about them because you’ve memorized them already—would work. Some people choose lyrics in a foreign language they do not understand. Then the lyrics just become part of the instruments. Or choose music that is so familiar you do not even have to think about it.

Creating a good work playlist can take a bit of time and effort, but if it elevates your mood, productivity, and effectiveness it is worth it. One playlist soon gets boring, so you need to branch out. One playful playlist for dreary editing, another powerful one for writing outlines, still another for rainy days when you would rather crawl back under the covers than crank out another five pages.


FEEDBACK: Do you listen to music when you write? What kind of music? How does it help you. Share your experiences.

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