Writing With Background Music

I got a dog a few weeks ago. It’s cool to see the world through a puppy’s eyes, wondering how she’ll react to any new thing for the first time—music, for example.

I constantly listen to music, but I hesitated the first time I went to stream some tunes while the dog chomped on a toy beside me. Would it distract her from the important task of beheading her plush pig? Would she like the new Ozzy Osborne album, or prefer his older material (perhaps Bark at the Moon)?

My dog, who is very cute.
This entire post is an excuse to post this picture of my dog, who lies here while I write. LOOK AT HER

It turns out that, as with most things, it depends.

Most dogs just ignore music, which says something about their tolerance for our noisy and confusing human antics. There’s a tendency for some dogs to react angrily to metal, be soothed by classical, and have a “meh” reaction to pop—which says something about how dogs aren’t all that different from humans after all.

My dog seemed momentarily confused by Ozzy’s voice magically emanating from the bookshelf, but soon she was back to having a snooze.

That got me thinking about another type of creature that likes naps, is easily distracted, and has mixed reactions to music: the writer.

I know some writers need silence while they’re writing. Others are distracted by words more than the music itself, so it’s instrumental songs only.

Personally, I have music on whenever I’m writing. During the scientific writing of my day job, I’m not picky; usually it’s that meh pop music, or whatever the algorithms decide to deliver to my ears today. When writing novels, it’s different. I like to match the mood of the music to the mood of the story. For example, someone on Spotify created a 20-hour playlist inspired by David Lynch that has been a good fit for my recent writing. My novel Stars and Other Monsters was explicitly influenced by listening to Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster over and over; it’s a very vampire-y album.

Lyrics are fine for me. Occasionally a line in a song will provide inspiration for a line in the novel, the same way passing strangers can provide inspiration for characters while writing at a coffee shop.

I know others (like friend of the blog Nilah) go so far as to create specific playlists for specific projects, and Mary Fan even wrote a song to include in her novel Windborn! I can’t help but think that a clarity of vision cutting across various media must help the end result feel like its own thing.

What about you? Do you (or your dog) write with music, or let only the tappy-tap of your keyboard accompany your writing?

This was originally posted on Across the Board in February of 2020.




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