Music and the Muse

by Randy Ingermanson

When you’re writing a full-length novel, you’re going to spend a lot of time typing your first draft. Probably at least 100 hours, and possibly much longer.

Anything that makes you more creative during those hundreds of hours will pay off hugely. It’ll take you less time to write your first draft. And your first draft will be better.

I recently asked a number of writers if they listen to music when they write. The reason I asked is because I’m convinced that music makes me write faster and better. (I can’t prove this, but I feel more creative and more productive when I’m writing to music, and that has to count for something.)

I got back four different kinds of answers:

Silence is Golden

For some writers, any kind of music is a distraction. They need silence. If they could get a sound-proof room, they’d hide away there to write.

I was surprised at this, because I hate silence. But this may have been the biggest group.

Nature Sounds are Magic

Other writers thrive on nature sounds. A babbling brook. Waves. Rain.

If this is your thing, you can find online sound-generators to give you whatever kind of nature you need.

And some writers like the sounds of a coffee shop, whether a recording or the real thing. I know a few writers who use the local Starbucks as their office, because the atmosphere puts them in the mood to write.

Instrumental Music Sets the Mood

A number of writers love instrumental music. Often, they listen to a movie sound track. What they’re looking for is music that puts them in the mood for the kind of scene they’re writing.

Of the music lovers, it seemed that most of them prefer instrumental music only—absolutely no vocals.

Vocal Music to Suppress the Voices in Your Head

A few writers do best with vocal music, and I’m in this crowd. I’ve always been bored to tears by instrumental music. If I’m going to listen to music, it needs a voice, even if it’s in a language I don’t understand.

But this group seemed to be the smallest, so I’m very much in the minority. Most of the writers who liked music said that vocals prevent them from working.

I have a theory that the vocal track engages the analytic side of my brain and keeps it from interfering with my creative side. We all have an inner editor who wants to shut off that messy creativity thing. But I suspect my inner editor gets sidetracked by the words, leaving my inner eagle free to fly. Or maybe my inner editor is just lonely.

If You Like Music

One great tool for music discovery is, an intelligent music streaming service. You tell it some songs or musicians you like, and Pandora will play music that it thinks you might like. You can click a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on any song, and Pandora will learn what you like and what you don’t.

Eventually, Pandora will be playing mostly music you like, and you may discover some great new groups that you’d never have found on your own.

We’re all wired differently, so what works for one writer might not work for another. But if you’ve never thought about it, this might be a good chance to experiment a little. Maybe you’ll find a method that works better than the way you’ve been doing it.


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 10,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Where do you fall in the “music while you write” spectrum?

Personally, I prefer silence, with instrumental music a close second.

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