Can music help the writing process?

Some writers work better with the sounds of a bustling cafe around them, others prefer the comfort of silence, but for some writers, the medium of music helps them to write better. There is something about the right background music that magically lights the creative touch paper.

Imagine watching a movie without any musical score. Would the emotional, dramatic or action scenes seem right? Would they have any impact? Imagine the opening scenes of Jaws without the clever cello build up of John Williams’ score. Without that creeping sound, the scene loses the sinister feel and it also loses any opportunity to create tension.

And what would the vast visual beauty of Lawrence of Arabia be without Maurice Jarre’s romantic swish of strings to rouse the audience? It would be somewhat empty.

Music and writing works the same way. The right music can create drama, it can affect the mood and it also stirs the imagination.

Of course, every writer is different and it may not work for everyone. But for those who have never really thought about it, the right music can do the following for writers:

  • It helps to create atmosphere
  • It helps to stimulate the senses
  • It fosters creativity
  • It helps you visualise scenes
  • It’s a way of infusing your narrative with heightened emotion and feeling
  • It can create impact

Again, think about how you feel when you hear music in a movie – it’s a perfect accompaniment to heighten atmosphere or tension, to draw our emotions, to rouse us with the action. Let it so the same for your writing.

It’s important to choose the right music for the right scene (although you might be one of those writers who can write sensual scenes to the decibel shattering sounds of Metallica) so perhaps non-distracting music may work better, so that it actually helps you focus on your narrative rather than detract from it. Whatever works for you.

Scene-appropriate music

Choosing the right music for the right scene is important if you want those creative juices to bubble. Light classical or movie soundtrack music is perfect for this because scores can provide the right amount of mood and atmosphere for a particular scene. For instance, slow thoughtful music for contemplative scenes, or upbeat, bristling, stirring music for action scenes, and sad, softer music for emotional scenes.

Instrumental music tends to be better simply because of its composition and melody structure, whereas songs could distract from the actual ‘sound’ of the music because you might have the urge to sing along or tap your fingers to the beat, when instead you should be writing!

It may be that writing with certain types of music can increase writing productivity because it helps the writer focus the tension, the atmosphere, emotions or conflict into the writing.

Also, try to focus on the piece of music you choose, listen to its rich layers and let your thoughts wander. It should stir your creativity and stretch your imagination, after all, these two art forms - music and literature - work in tandem. They are so ingrained in our psyche that the world would seem strange without them.

I write to well chosen movie scores – ranging from John Williams, James Newton Howard, James Horner, Thomas Newman and many others. Each one offers something different and I can tailor the music to suit my writing needs. Some of these come from CDs while others are from online playlists.

There are a number of free online resources for those interested putting together playlists.  Just follow the links: is a free streaming and radio service. offers some free music downloads for your MP3. is also a free streaming service, which I use. You’ll find many movie scores and classical composers here, and you can also create your own playlists.

Background music is just one of a number of tools that can support a writer and in some cases, boost the creative output, so If you haven’t already, why not give it a go? It might inspire you, who knows?


Next week: Passive voice


  1. I've written almost everything to The Nutcracker Suite and also Flogging Molly, Devils dance floor works great. Recently I've started using the Orchestral score from the Mafia 2 game.

    Thanks for the links.

  2. I normally like to write all alone, in complete darkness. At times I have to have music to get me going!

  3. There's no doubt music influences writing but if you're not careful you lose your individuality.

    If you can't create the right mood without someone else's prop, then maybe the scene isn't working.

    Beginners should be cautious - experienced writers can embrace these tools, but newbies often fall into the trap of recycling.

  4. Posted a comment last night and it's gone.

    I work in silence - simply because once I'm writing I don't need anything else.

  5. @ anonymous

    I disagree. Individuality is just that. It isn't affected by what we listen to or don't listen to, and as people say, silence works just as well. Mood can be only enhanced by music, it doesn't have to be a prop at all.

  6. Once or twice I've been able to write a scene AROUND a piece of music - usually a soundtrack -, so that the chapter fits the music. And quite often, I've had ideas for scenes come from soundtracks.

    1. That sometimes happens for me, too. At the end of the day, we go what works best for us.


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