Changing the Playlist

I love listening to music when I write.  Part of it is that I’m horribly ADD and need to drown out as many of the crazy radio static channels running through my brain as possible.  I also count on music to help me set the mood and tone of my story.  I don’t necessarily set out to create playlists for each project in advance, but by the end of the process they all end up with one.


From the very beginning of the process the music I listened to for Awake didn’t feel right for Atone.  I listened to quite a bit of Taylor Swift and other similar happy/pop acts while writing Awake, and while editing it I was almost exclusively putting the band Thrice on.  When thinking through Atone I spent a lot of time going through Jennifer Knapp’s Kansas album, which I love.  The themes in that album are many of the themes in Atone.  The problem is I can’t listen to Jennifer Knapp when I actually write…I literally will stop writing to listen/sing along.  Kind of defeats the purpose.


I’m not going to lie, I’ve had some struggles with Atone.  I wrote almost 40 thousand words – some of them great, some of them crap – before deciding to largely scrap that first draft and start over.  I was trying to do something I wasn’t comfortable with, set the story somewhere I didn’t have the right feel for.  I set Awake in Los Angeles because I love Los Angeles.  I’m from there.  It’s in my blood.  When I first envisioned Atone it was set in L.A. as well, but I tried to twist and squeeze it into something it wasn’t supposed to be because I thought it made more story sense.


When I finally admitted to myself that I needed to start again and set the novel back in Los Angeles, I knew it would change how I was writing…and what I was listening to.   Currently the soundtrack for Atone is a band that makes FEEL like I am back home when I listen to them: Counting Crows.  At the risk of dating myself horribly, their debut album August and Everything After reminds me of cruising around in my parent’s little red station wagon with my friends in the South Bay (and yes, it came out in 1993, but I was really into it in the mid to late 90s, just to clarify!)  I have visceral, physical memories attached to that album, all of which are location based.


I’m listening to most of their other stuff too, but especially the Hard Candy album.  There are a few scenes with Becca and Nicholas that happen in the same place over a series of nights – and they’ve all been written to the song Goodnight L.A.  You can listen to it free on Grooveshark.  It’s really a brilliant tune.


So what do you think?  If you write, do you write to music?  What albums feel like “home” to you?




15 thoughts on “Changing the Playlist

  1. Good post! Interesting to read about your era of music.

    My first writing project I listened to the Bare Naked Ladies constantly – specifically “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.” For whatever reason, now I usually have no music on at all. I don’t know why. If there is something specific to the story, maybe I’ll find it on Pandora. For instance, my most recent project had me tuning into the Rat Pack music – but then I’d crave Italian food so I had to stop.

    1. Lynne, BNL (and Fountains of Wayne) were both on my mostly Taylor Swift playlist during Awake. I adore Love in a Dangerous Time. BNL are so crazy good.

      I can’t write with no music. I literally cannot do it. My brain is too loud.

  2. Anything by Cirque du Soleil. Specifically, Varekai and Kooza. Varekai was the first show I ever saw and Kooza is…Kooza xD

  3. My senior year of college, I think everything I wrote was to Josh Groban ::thinking backwards:: There was a smattering of Phantom of the Opera, but I used that as a “reward” and the Groban was the meat that got me through it. He was also HUGE in writing my way through grad school … Maybe I should write him a “Thank you” card, and see if he has any ideas on how to use the danged degrees his music earned me 😉

    Now … I write best to really bizarre Western Civ lectures. No lie, haha. Music-wise, a little Swift, Groban, Disney!, and Michael W Smith’s newest instrumental album GLORY. Ah-mazing. It gives me chills, and is totes my heart’s cry …

    So far as anything feeling like “home” – in terms of location? I’m not sure there is anything … I have music that settles me, makes my heart rest easy – so maybe that’s the same idea?

  4. I write to instrumental soundtracks. The whole point of music (for me) is to block out the words going on around me so I can focus on the ones in my head. Therefore, vocals defeat the purpose.

    Favorite tracks:
    I Am The Doctor (Doctor Who, series 5)
    The Majestic Tale of a Madman in a Box (DW, series 6)
    Downton Abbey Suite (Downton Abbey, series 1)
    The Black Gate Opens (Return of the King)
    SHERlocked (Sherlock, series 2)
    Back to Work (Sherlock, series 1)

    1. Don’t the soundtracks remind you of the movies or shows? When I listen to soundtracks I SEE the movie and I think that changes my writing more…whereas songs with lyrics I can still put them to my own movie in my head…UNLESS they’ve already been in a movie that I have really strong memories of 😀

      It’s a complicated process.

  5. You may find it odd but I listen to Celtic Song (Emerald Isle Series)-Amazon is a good place to find it. I first heard it while working at a Borders store and now it is my go-to especially when experiencing writers block. Something about the melodies gets into my brain and crashes through the brick wall I built holding myself back, give it a try.

  6. I have a playlist for every single writing project, my dissertation and my two fiction WIPs. Music establish much mood and tone and can help me get over that, “But I don’t want to write …” lump.

    I think the connection you posit between music and place is really interesting. One of my WIPs is set in Washington, DC, my playlist is full of the music I was listening to when I lived there (all this alt rock from five years ago). I don’t actually know whether the story is set now or in the period when that music was popular.

    1. Emma, my book is set now, but most of that music is 10-15 years old at least. I think we associate songs with place (and people) memories very strongly, at least I know I do!

      There are some songs I can write anything to, and then there are some projects that require a special soundtrack. The power of music to move is pretty amazing 😀

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