Distraction or Inspiration?

Years ago I met Dean Koontz at one of his book signings. He was and remains one of my literary heroes. As a fledgling thriller author I had a burning question for him.


“Do you listen to music when you write?”


He looked startled and fixed his darker-than-dark eyes on me. “Wow,” he said. “No one has ever asked me that.”


The answer was yes. In fact, he chose a single album per manuscript and played it repeatedly as he wrote. It became the rhythm of the book. For example, when he wrote Sole Survivor, he told me, the accompanying soundtrack was Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”


I listened to that album when I read Sole Survivor to see if I could match songs to passages. It doesn’t work that way, of course. Writing a book takes heck of lot longer than reading one. But I’ve listened to music while I write ever since. These days, it’s my iTunes library on shuffle unless I need an extra push to inspire a darker mood than my eclectic pop/jazz/dance/country/80’s/R&B/insert-genre-here tastes run. At such times, I listen to movie scores. Thrillers, of course. 


So, my fellow Miss Demeanors, what do you listen to while you write?


Cate: I try to listen to music the puts me in the mood of my characters at various points. For my third book, Lies She Told, this was my playlist:


All That She Wants: Ace of Base

Back Door Man: The Doors

What Kind of Man: Florence and The Machine

Fire: Bruce Springsteen

Everybody’s Got The Right To Love: The Supremes

Werewolf: Fiona Apple

Janie’s Got A Gun: Aerosmith

You Know I’m No Good: Amy Winehouse

Samson: Regina Spektor

I Told You I Was Mean: Elle King

Fast as You Can: Fiona Apple

Youth: Daughter

Stone Cold Crazy: Queen

With A Little Help From My Friends: Joe Cocker

Psycho Killer: Talking Heads


Tracee: Great questions Robin! I definitely listen to music! I have a long playlist that is background music, often played so low it is barely audible. What I find interesting is that I usually don’t notice it, but if I accidentally hit shuffle and the songs are in the ‘wrong’ order then it’s a distraction. When I really need to focus I listen to the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos. Otherwise, my playlist is eclectic: Mumford and Sons, U2, Imagine Dragons, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Carrie Underwood, Eagles, Adele, Coldplay, and much more… including a recent addition. k.d. lang’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. That one I still turn up and listen to full throttle.


Paula: I have my playlists organized by genre/emotion/audience: romance, country, dance, creativity, meditation, happiness, poignancy, sweet dreams, etc., and for my bad days, f–k you. Note: For whatever reason, this f–k you playlist is the one my fellow writers most often request that I share with them. Go figure.I play whichever playlist suits the scene I’m writing–and if it’s something special, I just create a new playlist. When I’m stuck, I play my OM playlist, which is a combination of kirtan, gregorian chants, and classical music. That always gets me either to the computer or to the yoga mat…and then to the computer.


Susan: I can’t listen to anything. I need complete (musical) silence to write. It doesn’t bother me if my neighbors’ are doing construction, but put on Sibelius and my mind goes dead.


Alexia: I can’t listen to music while I write. I end up enjoying the music too much and paying more attention to it than to my writing. Mendelssohn is the one exception. I can write with Mendelssohn playing quietly. Usually, I either write in silence or with a quiet buzz of human voices running in the background like white noise.


Michele: Put me under the column of writers who don’t/can’t listen to music while I write. I find I am so deeply and sometimes unconsciously influenced emotionally by music that it affects my writing in unintended ways. I like either total silence or the sounds of nature (birds, waves, wind, etc.). I’ve learned I love to write outdoors.


It’s not that I don’t love music. Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli can make me weep, even though I can’t understand the lyrics. Dave Matthews gets me out of my seat. Simon and Garfunkel have been favorites since I was a kid and bring up lots of memories. I walked down the aisle to Scarborough Fair. I love Irish music. Harps kill me. Piano and violin move me. But all of these reactions to music tend to muddle what I’m writing.


I must say I am fascinated by how my fellow Miss Demeanors intentionally use music to set their moods. I may try it.I am writing this while my daughter’s two kittens are practically sitting on my keyboard, purring like a feline orchestra. My mood is definitely influenced. I want to read a cozy.


How about you, dear reader? Do you listen to music while you write?



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