Music and Muse

Do you have music on in the background while you write? Are you of of those writers who writes in the local coffee shop for the subtle chatter and sense of companionship that it provides for what is otherwise a solitary pursuit? Or do you need the sounds of silence to bring forth the words?

After choosing to write an essay on this topic, I, uncharacteristically, decided that I should research the question. That’s what the internet is good for, besides cute cat pictures. My far-from-exhaustive research found that many authors write with music in the background. In fact, 80% of them, in a small survey. Scientist, on the other hand, have conducted many tests and have generally found that background music inhibits performance in students and writing. Their theory for this negative effect is that the brain has to process the music, which in turn, narrows the bandwidth available for processing the thoughts you are trying to find words for. This apparently applies to all types of music. They suggest that you use music to put yourself in a good state of mind before you sit down to write, but then write in silence.

I am one of those writers who listen to music while I write – quiet, mostly instrumental music, delivered by Spotify. I have days and days worth of music in various playlists on Spotify. Until recently, that is. Spotify discontinued the tier I’ve had for a decade, and unless I pay twice the rate I had been paying, I’ll have to find some other source of background music or write in silence. So I’ve been writing in silence for the last month or so, just to see how important music really was for me. The results are… inconclusive. I can write, but it’s not quite the same.

For example, I am writing this essay in silence. When I stop to think of what I want to write next, I find that the silence is a little stressful. I feel that something is missing, There’s a hole that needs to be filled. I think that the music in the background carries me through these pauses while I’m thinking. With music I never quite come to a dead stop. And yet, when I am writing with the music on, I hardly ever hear it. The music goes in one ear and out the other unnoticed most of the time. So it’s not some sort of soundtrack or anything like that. It’s just there, to fill holes, as needed. Plus, with music on, I don’t have to hear the ringing in my ears like I am now when writing this in silence. So I think I can say that while background music isn’t essential, I do want my music back. Just as soon as Spotify offers me a deal, that is.

In any event, what about you? Do you need music, or need silence? Are you one of the cool kids who take their laptop to the coffee house to write? And what type of music do you listen to? Do you have playlists for certain moods, certain scenes or books? Share your music.


  1. I used to listen to specific pieces of music (via CDs) while writing my first few novels. Since then, it’s radio–classical music programs or even current events chatter. Of course the music isn’t chosen by me, but occasionally I hear something wonderful and write down the particulars for future reference. Music uses a different part of the brain than language, so it works. With talk, it’s really background that I attend to imperfectly or not at all.
    I could never write in a coffee shop. Writing is a private act, best done in pj’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kingmidget says:

      It’s interesting. You say you could never write in a coffee shop. Neither could I but that’s because I don’t go to coffee shops. 😉 I do, however, go to breweries, and they are a great place for me to write. All those people, and the noise … absolutely wonderful!!! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My problem is they’re public places, and businesses. I’d always be wondering if I was taking up space without paying for it. If I had to write in a public place, I’d pick a library. 😄

        Liked by 1 person

    2. chucklitka says:

      I’m with you. Can’t imagine writing in public. Not that I know of any place to do so. Until two years ago I lived in a city of 2,000. Now, we’re living in a city of 70,000, so I’m sure there are coffee shops… If I could afford their coffee..

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Especially since you would feel obligated to keep buying coffees while taking up space.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. kingmidget says:

    Do I “need” to listen to music when I write? I don’t know. I generally have music on in the background no matter what I do. When I exercise, when I do yardwork, when I cook, and yes, when I write. The music moves in and out of my awareness as I go about my things. Generally, what I listen to are playlists on Spotify — my own and the ones Spotify creates based on my listening habits. It just depends on what I feel like listening to when I start the music playing.

    There are likely times when I write without music, but it’s also likely very rare. I’m a person who needs distractions to be able to focus. If that makes sense at all. When I was in law school, I tried studying in the library once. It was far too quiet in there, it made my mind wander. So, I never did that again, choosing to study instead in the student center, where the cafeteria was. The noise and activity helped me get my work done.

    When I first started writing, I spent a couple of months going into the “office” in our house and writing. I lost interest in that because I was isolated from my kids, who were young and fun at the tiem. So, I got a laptop and most of my writing over the next ten years was in the presence of my family. While my kids played outside, while we all sat and watched TV.

    These days I still need those distractions. Whether it is music or something else. I prefer the music as a distraction over anything else these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while I’m writing. I’ll listen to instrumental music to set the mood at times, like cyberpunk tracks for my science fiction efforts.

    I’ll also use certain songs with lyrics as a way to get myself in the right mood. When I was writing my military sci-fi novel, I would listen to the anthem of the Royal Navy, “Hearts of Oak” every day before I started writing. I also wrote an (unpublished) story that I would get in the mood to write by listening to “Don’t Fear The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. kingmidget says:

    Well, now I want to read that unpublished story. What could it be that Don’t Fear The Reaper got you in the mood for.

    Liked by 1 person

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