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Gasbagging on Twitter isn’t always time misspent - a sentiment that would surely incense many. Here at Writers Bloc, we love chatting with our Twitter community about all things writing and reading, and are so often left feeling inspired and ready to write as a result.
A little while ago, we posed the question, ‘What kind of music do you like to write to?’ to our Twitter followers. The responses were so juicy and insightful that thanks to you, Bloc pals, we now have a comprehensive guide to music and sounds to accompany your writing. Whether you want to increase your productivity and concentration, relax into a creative trance, turn inwards or turn outwards, there’s sure to be a song or soundscape on this list that will help.
Image source: Flickr / jakescreations
The discussion ventured into some weird and wonderful terrain, but let’s ease in with some straight up artist and song suggestions, shall we?
- Gemma Mahadeo (@snarkattack) likes to write to early recordings with or by Jordi Savall, because it’s ‘just bright and pensive enough to not be too intrusive’
- Angela Nikulinsky (@honey_barbara) writes to Mozart
- Laura Jean McKay (@laurajeanmckay) to Erik Satie
- Geoff Orton (@GeoffsOpinions) to Unknown Mortal Orchestra
- Jason Kenny (@thejasonkenny) writes to Brian Eno, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, ‘just not all at once’
- Red Magpie (@red_magpie_) also writes to Coltrane; he puts ‘My Favourite Things’ on when he needs to get a unit of focused work done, as the track goes for forty minutes
- Graham Senders (@g_buoyup) says that Bach’s Brandenburg concertos work for him, as do The Ramones.
It was pretty unanimous that mellow instrumental music is best to write to, as lyrics or ‘catchy melodies’ as Jenner Porter (@Jenner_P) put it, can be distracting. For those who do like to write to instrumental music, we suggest listening to film scores as you write. They are usually in chronological order, so you’re really subtly swept along with a narrative, which can be quite helpful as you negotiate your own narrative. A few top quality scores to start with include:
- Max Richter’s Testament of Youth, Perfect Sense and Lore
- Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ The Assassination of Jesse James, The Road and The Proposition
- Phillip Glass’ The Hours and Notes on a Scandal
- Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Babel
- Dustin O’Halloran’s An American Affair
There are also those writers who don’t like writing to any kind of music, but find silence insufferable. This seems like a pretty hopeless category to be in, right? Wrong! There are so many options for these writers. This is where we get specific and really embrace technology.
Scarlett Harris (@ScarlettEHarris) explained that ‘general life sounds like birds and mild traffic are fine but anything rhythmic (even dripping taps) or with words and I’m out’, to which Sam van Zweden (@lgwabp) replies, ‘words are a no-go for me, too. I find loud places with non-English language speakers really useful.’ Scarlett agreed, saying ‘Yes! Food courts and public transport with non-English speakers FTW! Maybe I should move to a foreign country…’ Others then chimed in and expressed that they, too, benefit from the ambient noises of a not-too-busy café, so long as the dialogue in their vicinity isn’t too compelling.
If moving to a foreign country or scouring food courts for the perfect noise level isn’t a good fit, you could, as Sam van Zweden and ‘Sugartits Mcgee’ (@newswithnipples) suggest, go onto a noise generating website. Services like Noisli or Coffitivity help you create your ideal soundscape without leaving your house!
In the same way that noise machines can hold you in a deep sleep, they can also hold you in a productive and focused headspace for writing. Just as stimulus such as traffic sounds or doors opening and closing through the night can wake you up, noises whilst you’re writing can break your concentration. But having something constant and unobtrusive, like white noise, on in the background whilst you sleep or write dilutes all other stimulus, meaning that you won’t be as sensitive to and effected by the sounds around you.
If white noise isn’t your jam, that’s okay. Noisli (both on their website and in their app) has a smorgasbord of sounds to choose from. And better yet, you can mix and match, adjusting the volume of each to create your own personal and specific soundscape. For example, below, we’ve got a bit of rain, a bit of wind, quite severe thunder and a peppering of bird sounds. How could you not want to stay inside and write in this kind of ‘weather’?
Screenshot of Noisli
Coffitivity (also available as an app) is a library of café sounds. All you need to do is pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit at your desk, and choose your ambience. Do you feel like writing along to the ‘morning murmur’? Or perhaps the lunchtime rush? This may seem a bit far-fetched, but the team behind Coffitivity have actually done a lot of research into optimising creativity and concentration. They have found that ‘being a tiny bit distracted helps you be more creative’; that the slight ‘chatter and clatter’ of a café distracts you just enough to get your creativity flowing.
Harry Sadler (@MondayStory) did make a good point, though, when he said, ‘writing in public places is super-important’. He believes that ‘it’s imperative that writers write about something more than themselves. This means they must engage with the world. Even if you don’t directly take ideas from people around you, just being in public will remind you how much is in the world.’ Perhaps you could fake it half the time with a noise generator and experience it IRL the rest of the time?
One last tip from us: if you’re a Spotify user, click on the ‘browse’ button, scroll down and click on ‘focus’ (in between ‘hip hop’ and ‘country’). In this folder there are thirty-one playlists, including ‘Natural concentration’ which is full of sounds from nature; ‘White noise’ which has over twenty hours of continuous white, pink, red and blue noise; and our favourite, ‘Sound escapes’, which is described as ‘atmospheric and experimental long cuts perfect for meditation, concentration, and deep thinking’. And for those who want to be inspired to write about intergalactic shenanigans, ‘Calm before the storm’ will surely put you in the mood (and also give you nightmares).
Thank you to everyone who was part of this conversation on Twitter! If you weren’t, but would like to add a sonic suggestion, feel free to do so in the comments section below.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.
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