now that’s some writin’ music, baby!

The only hidden talent to my name is that I can listen to non-instrumental music while reading and writing. That’s right, words and all—and more often than not, they’re loud words, highly charged and emotional. Sometimes more screaming than singing. Still doesn’t distract me from the words I’m taking in visually. I know, someone call the circus, what a freak.

It’s honestly not that deep and I’m not entirely sure where that intro came from. But one of my favorite fiction-writing-adjacent things to do while I’m in the midst of a project—especially if it’s a long one—is to compile a Spotify playlist. Songs that fit whatever vibe I’m going for; whether that be more explicit with their lyrics (sometimes in my project file I’ll even take note of particularly impactful lyrics to reference), or through the sound of the instrumentals, or even if I just so happen to be writing along to it in a certain moment. Certain songs could be representative of certain characters, or a sequence of songs could correspond to a plot line. It is endlessly fun, but I think it also helps keep me grounded in the world of whatever I’m writing. It’s an exercise in curating a very specific aesthetic, one that I’m building from scratch. Playlists give the story a sound.

And sometimes these story playlists turn out pretty damn good. I started curating my current WIP’s playlist about six months before I actually started drafting it. The tone of the story and the characters was beginning to brew in my mind and I wanted to capture those feelings even if I wasn’t ready to dive in and start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard?). The result was being able to establish my protagonist’s attitudes, her interests, her voice, before I’d even figured out her name, let alone her story. I loathe sounding so pompous—oh the incomparable magic and splendor of the creative process—but it really is a great feeling. I’ve embedded that playlist below if you’d like to check it out.

The first song I heard that sort of was the key in the ignition for this playlist was “Escape” by Muse. I had gotten the idea for my story maybe a night or two before, I was churning it over and over in my head as I lay on the top bunk of my teeny-tiny dorm room in London (but that’s a story for another time), and this song came on through my headphones. And I cried. My zodiac sign’s a cancer, alright?! A bitch cries often! But the lyrics, man. Every single line in that song fit my protagonist. Her romantic relationship, her inner conflicts, the dark adventure she’ll soon be going on . . . it’s just all there. I was gonna copy and paste some of the words here, but realized I’d just be typing out the whole fucking song. I’ll leave that Google search up to you if you’re curious.

Now after all this talk about lyrics, I absolutely can also appreciate some good instrumental bops to guide my writing. In my case, a lot of these end up being from horror movie soundtracks. They’re a lot more artful than you may think! There’s nothing quite like writing a suspenseful scene while listening to The Haunting of Hill House‘s soundtrack, or even an iconic theme like the one from The Exorcist. Try it sometime. (My own instrumental horror playlist is also pretty dope if you want a starting point).

So, yes! Writing along to music! Highly recommend. Instrumental or deathmetal, pick your poison. I think you may be surprised at how much it helps to channel some of the creative energy you have for writing into the curation of something like this. It’s also just damn fun.