Planning Your Writing Playlist – Birds on the Blog

Planning Your Writing Playlist

Planning your writing playlistPersonally, I find it hard to write with music in the background. But I DO write better with an ambient hum of other people’s noise around me. For many, music has a similar function: a ‘white noise’ that allows them to focus more effectively than complete silence, particularly when they’re wearing noise-cancelling headphones that cut down on external distractions. And crafting a writing playlist certainly offers more sophisticated options than the generic chatter down at Costa (which is where I’m writing this).

Behavioural economist Caroline Webb revealed in her book How to Have a Good Day that she regularly blasts out Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ before she leads a workshop to get her into a positive, energetic mood. When I spoke to her in The Extraordinary Business Book Club, I asked her if she had a similar routine for getting into the writing groove.

‘ Of course, absolutely. I have a soundtrack for just about everything… [Writing needs] a particular type of playlist because your conscious brain, your deliberate system, can only do one thing at a time. You really need whatever playlist you are listening to to be something that you can process on automatic so that it doesn’t get in the way of your thinking processes, your conscious thinking processes.

I was listening to Haydn’s string quartet on a loop again and again and again. I knew it so well that I didn’t really need to consciously engage with it but I associated listening to them with, “Oh, I’m writing now.”’

(She later got bored of Haydn and replaced him with deep house, which apparently is fundamentally quite similar. Who knew?)

Apart from the fact that music without lyrics works best in terms of not competing with your writing, Caroline’s experience highlights two more key points of using music as part of your writing habit:

  1. the mood and associations it creates for you and
  2. the power of using a consistent signal to get you into the zone.

If you’re not comfortable writing to music, you can enjoy both these benefits simply by listening to it for a few minutes BEFORE you write. This might even be more effective, in fact: some research indicates that even if you feel more productive when you’re listening to music, that’s likely to be an illusion based on the simple fact that you’re having more fun. (Though frankly, if having more fun keeps you writing longer, that’s a sensible strategy too.)

So creating your writing playlist is both an art and a science, and ultimately, since so much depends on the associations and emotions a particular piece evokes in you, a very personal choice.

Take a moment to think about the state of mind in which you do your best writing: calm? energised? exhilarated? reflective? Then think of music that you associate with that state of mind. Classical music tends to work well, as it doesn’t have lyrics to distract your conscious mind, but there’s no rule that says you can’t have country OR western if that’s what works for you.

Then simply experiment: play the music in the background before you write and while you write, with headphones and without. Notice what happens, how it changes your state of mind, your productivity, your flow. Does it colour what you write, and if so how? When you find what works, use it regularly until it becomes a cue to your subconscious that it’s time to write.

Do you have a writing playlist? I’d love to hear what’s on it and why it works for you!

About the Author Alison Jones

Alison is a book coach and publishing partner for businesses and organizations with something to say. She hosts the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast.

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