Tunes For The Penmonkey

I don’t tend to listen to much music while writing. Editing, sometimes — or, maybe during prep. But during writing, I like things quiet. Chill. Shhhhh.

But! But, I’ve been playing with music a little bit — not so much during the writing but before it to get pumped up and “in the mood” and then at punctuated points during the actual process.

Which makes me want to ask you people:

Do you listen to music when you write?

What do you listen to?

A deeper, more granular question would be:

Given that different music is valuable to different writing moods or to writing different scenes, what do you like to write when working on certain types of scenes? Say, when you’re writing action? Or drama? Or sex? Or ACTION DRAMA SEX? (That will be the name of my memoir, by the way. Look for it in the year 2034. Provided we all survive the Hyperborean Sharkpocalypse of 2032.)





What’s the score?

Pun not intended until now.


  • Instead of smoking weed, I listen to Yo Yo Ma playing Bach’s Concerto no. 1 in G Major. Lights off, eyes closed. Because I fancy myself a pretentious assface with a heart of pure musical gold.

    But also because I can’t play the cello, so I don’t end up thinking about technique or phrasing or all that other mumbo-wah-wah that happens listening to stuff with singing and guitars.

    Otherwise, it’s usually just any available background noise for me.

    But sometimes there’s a Decemberists break. “The King is Dead” and “Long Live the King” are together the best recorded album I’ve ever heard ever.

    And sometimes there’s a Static X break. “Wisconsin Death Trip” is choice when you want to break faces in with other faces until there are no faces left to break.



  • I tend to listen to instrumental pieces. I have a few modern alternative instrumental bands which help me focus on action/thriller scenes (thriller as in genre not dance numbers). My all time favorite focus song is “I Am The Doctor” from the 11th Doctor Who series

  • White noise is good. Needs to have rhythm, so it can’t just be a fan. Usually, if I choose to listen to music, it’s an album that I know so well I don’t even hear it anymore. If my attention is caught by any part of a song, lyrics, melody, whatever, I’m doomed. Easy listening music with a simple beat is good, can’t be hard rock or metal, that just exhausts me. I’ve been listening to Jim Croce a lot lately. Josh Ritter is great as well.

  • I’ve been on a kick with the Hans Zimmer soundtracks to Inception and The Dark Knight with a couple of Thomas Newman’s (Road to Perdition, Angels in America) going in and out. I recently added David Julyan’s music from Insomnia and some various Massive Attack and Tangerine Dream. They all helped me dive into the world of my story.

  • Gotta have the right tunes to write, sometimes I shuffle the current playlist… Love the name of memoirs–Action, Drama, Sex. Totally you , dude.

  • Sometimes, but it depends on the scene. As to what? It’s hilarious…what I listen to changes entirely from project to project. My zombie novella was all bayou blues and breathy girl rock like Shivaree and Mirah. Dangerous music and swampy guitars. Got the feel of both my lead character and the New Orleans setting. (Loved working on that piece… used Pandora.)

    The novel currently being shopped had a soundtrack of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ludo, Muse, Gorillaz, the Tron Legacy soundtrack and a few episodes of the Babylon 5 podcast. The playlist is set on my iTunes and if I’m writing new material I can have it going quietly, but prefer to have it off. If I’m brainstorming or editing, though, crank it.

    Something I can’t wait to write to… Midnight Syndicate’s “Carnival Arcane”. You’re welcome.

  • It has to be quiet while I’m writing. I’d be quite happy writing in a library. I think I might try using music to gear up to write, though. I love music…if it has words, I’m singing, which makes it very hard for me to get into my fantasy world and write.

  • I generally pick singers who have my character’s voice. This way, I can more easily stay in the character’s head while I’m writing, but when I’m out doing other things and keep the same music on, I continie thinking about the story.

  • I definitely use music to get me in the right frame of mind for writing. I usually listen to music from when I was around 7-14 years old, since I was much less self-conscious then. I want to remember what it was like to not have such a loud self-censor, so I pump those tunes into my brain and do my best to drown out my adult anxieties.

  • I’m obsessive about music in general, and music while writing in particular.

    To the point that I create special playlists for each project that I’m working on. Often hundreds of tracks long (some picked individually, most the result of importing entire soundtracks, albums or collections), resulting in mood-enhancing accompaniment that literally last for a day or more.

    (FAR WEST playlist, for example: nearly 700 tracks, 1.4 days of music)

  • Let me see I listen to mostly rock when writing my dark or more pulpy pieces.

    When writing something taking place in my dieselpunk setting I go to Parov Stelar or Caravan Palace for some electroswing.

    And whenever I just start writing about a random topic I listen to anything I have at the moment.

  • I always listen to music, whether I’m writing or editing. I listen to a lot of old R-and-B (Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin) and classical music (Beethoven, Mozart, Bach) for everything except scenes of carnage. For those I tend toward some death metal I stole from my son (Necrophagist and Prayer for Cleansing). And sometimes, when the mood strikes me, I listen to bluegrass or country or even hymns I have very eclectic musical tastes.

  • I listen to music while I write. I have too, can’t concentrate on what I’m trying to put down if I don’t. Actually, as I’m writing this I’m watching Snapped: Women Who Kill and writing my book. I don’t normally do that, but a change up is always nice.
    Anyway, I usually pick songs that have inspired scenes in my story. Disturbed comes up a lot in my playlist, so do the Dropkick Murphy’s and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. I have a lot of oldies though. Men At Work, Simon and Garfunkle, The Knacked, all of them.
    I was born in the wrong generation….
    As far as writing, though because it’s hard to find “steampunk” music, I try to get a blend of old and new, from classical all the way to techno/trans for some of the fight scenes.

  • I do a lot of thinking through the plot during long drives, which I have to make for the day job. For me the best writing / thinking music is the album Formless by this super-underappreciated group called Gridlock — kind of industrial, kind of IDM. Very dystopian. There’s nothing else like it.

  • I listen to a lot of Finnish rock. Got hooked on Poets of the Fall, who did the music for Alan Wake. Good stuff. Enough to keep my brain awake and focused on the task, still backgroundy enough that I don’t start singing lyrics and get all distracted from the writing.

  • Standby on the writing playlist is a list of music from RPGs. Mostly fairly neutral “Hey, let’s see what’s over that hill over there!” sort of stuff.. Next to that, E.S. Posthumus instrumentals, and most recently Les Friction’s work

    If I’m completely stuck I’ll just forego all of that and use OmmWriter’s white-noise loops and drones until the flotsam in my brain is jarred loose. Then bring on the epic theme music.

  • Sometimes listen to hip-hop mixes via Internet radio, but sometimes I start bouncing around too much, so then has to be complete silence for a while.

  • I have young kids, so when am I’m able to get some writing done, (i.e. when my wife is home and able to watch the kids while I work), I look myself in the study, (i.e. the spare bedroom), and play 70 minute long samples of either heavy rain, white-noise, sea waves, or very minimalist ambient tracks to block out distracting sounds. I find it impossible to work while listening to anything else — especially songs with a beat or lyrics. I guess my concentration is always looking for an excuse to lapse.

  • When I’m writing, I work best without music, but when I’m researching I love to have stuff on that reflects what I’m researching. Lately the topics have mostly been piratical and Spanish in nature, so I have an Andalusian/Arabic playlist, some Northern European/Scots, etc. Somebody up there mentioned David Garrett (yum); I have some of his classical on (but get too sucked into his awesome crossovers), also Apocalyptica’s more atmospheric stuff, especially their songs written by Perttu. Jesse Cook’s Spanish guitar has been really helpful, and makes nice road music too. The 3-hour loop of Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack works great if I don’t need anything specific.

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