The Pros and Cons of Writing with Music

I had a great weekend working on Ashes (the the sequel to Weakness), adding almost 15,000 words to the rough draft. This got me thinking about the pros and cons of writing with music.

The Pros of Writing with Music

Writing with music keeps me from falling asleep at the keyboard.

It’s not because I find my stories boring. (Honestly, it’s not!) It’s because I work ten hours a day and am almost always sleep-deprived and exhausted, so when I sit down in a chair for several minutes in a row nature assaults me with the need to pass out fast.

Okay, that may be a little hyperbolic. (I’m listening to music now – see the con below about being too epic.) There’s another contributing factor here. When I write I try to really feel my characters, and imagine in-depth how they might be feeling in a scene. This often requires a minimal amount of daydreaming. And daydreaming, as it turns out, is a great way to lull yourself to sleep.

Me: “What would it feel like to finally stand up to the man who kidnapped you after being trained by him for twenty years? I bet it would be…zzz.”

Music helps me stay awake.

Writing with music helps me focus faster.

Usually I get home from work and spend an hour or two trying to forget about all the other things on my mind before I settle down to write. I write best when there are no nagging worries and I can just clear my mind and get to work.

Sometimes, however, I just can’t unfry my brain after being at work all day long. So I go to bed early and get up at 4 a.m. to write before I go to work instead. (Sometimes it works really well, and sometimes it has unintended consequences – usually of the falling asleep at the keyboard nature, but I think we’ve already covered that.)

When I put some music on immediately the mood changes and my mind can zero in on imagining what’s happening beside that music. I don’t have to spend hours trying to get down to business. I just turn the music on and already I feel eager to write the scenes I’m seeing in my mind.

Writing feels faster when I’m writing with music.

Unfortunately, when I check my word count and the clock after I’m done, it usually isn’t faster for me personally. Probably because I end up spending so much time imagining my scenes instead of writing them. (Compelling music lends itself to that.) But hey, it’s better than sleeping instead of writing, right?

But I have found that music enables me to keep on driving away, scene after scene, whileas without the music I might reach my limit earlier. In that sense maybe music is like a drug artificially stimulating my ability to write, enabling me to keep on going long after my body should be resting and recovering.

Which sounds sort of like a con and not a pro. So, without further ado…

The Cons of Writing with Music

When I’m writing with music, I feel like I’ve accomplished more than I actually have.

See the last point on the “pros” list. This leads to a greater letdown when I find out just how much I haven’t done in the little time I have.

Writing with music is so epic.

This doesn’t sound like a con, does it? But actually, it is.

I love to listen to epic cinematic music when I write. (Good writing makes me feel something, so I want to write out of a place of emotion, which means I need to listen to music that makes me feel something, too.) But here’s an all-too-frequently-occurring result:

Me: (writing with music) “This is so good! So intense! Wow! Let’s just throw in a grenade! Everything’s so great!”

Me: (rereading it later in an eerie silence) “Wow. I can’t believe how over the top this is. A grenade? What was I thinking?”

Writing with music cramps my style.

I tend to be a lyrical writer. I just naturally try to work the syllables in all my sentences into a satisfying flow. This in itself is sometimes good and sometimes bad. (It lends itself to over-wordiness on my part and sometimes inhibits me from writing as curtly as I should in certain scenes, but it can also make some passages quite memorable and beautiful.)

I do this best when nothing is distracting me and I am writing in near silence.

When I listen to music, however, I can’t really hear the rhythm of the lines, so I tend to just write over it. Like I said, sometimes my tendency to try to “flow” words can be problematic, so this isn’t inherently a bad thing. But sometimes I reread the passages I wrote while I was writing with music and feel like they’re all flat. Like the sentences don’t rise and fall and they all end on a note that’s out of key. And then I cringe and spend far too much time writing everything again to “make it work” – for better or for worse.

Writing with music makes me more obsessive.

I’m already easily obsessed enough. (I’m one of “those” writers – the kind who, left to their own devices, can write for sixteen hours straight and remember in the middle of the night that they haven’t eaten anything all day.) When I’m writing with music I’m even more likely to be stirred up in the frenetic need to keep on churning out more sentences.

Me: (burning a hole in my computer screen with such great laser focus) “Don’t stop! Just another scene! Just another thousand words! You can rest after the novel’s finished!”

So, is writing with music worth it?

I wrote all three of my (currently) published novels in complete silence (the exception being Chapters 29-32 of Weakness). I’ve written a huge portion of Ashes while listening to music. If Ashes sells better than all my other books combined, we may have our answer.

Then again, it is a sequel, so it may sell well for other reasons. You may just have to tell me what you think about the end of Weakness


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