Music for Writing To

Music has become a vital part of my writing process this year. A friend I meet with regularly about the project counseled me last month about the use of music in writing saying that several of his friends don't write while listening to music because they don't want the emotion they're feeling to come from the music, but from what's happening in the story. I find, however, in our small studio apartment that I need a pair of headphones to block out the world around me and make a safe, isolated, creative workspace for myself.

Of course, the kind of music I put on is crucial to creating the right kind of creative workspace. I've tried all kinds of genres from jazz (The Bad Plus) to post-rock (Bell Orchestre, Clogs) to film scores (Amelie, The Fountain), all of which I enjoy listening to, but for the purpose of my writing I find it all too driving and excitable to help put me in the relaxed state I need to be in to do good work. The music has to be quiet, calm, meditative, rolling, atmospheric, repetitive, moving, and emotional, simple in its instrumentation, and it can never have lyrics or the words distract me from the words I'm working to put down. So that's led me to using almost exclusively neoclassical (or post-classical) albums to write. It's generally piano driven, with strings, recorded ambient or source sounds, and the occasional electronic addition. It started with discovering Ólafur Arnalds on All Song's Considered and was quickly followed by Max Richter through, if I remember correctly, iTunes's recommendation engine. Those two will remain among my all-time, I'll listen to them forever, favorites, but it's grown over the last two years to include the following list of ten artists and thirty albums I give you now:

  • Dustin O'Halleran - Piano Solos, Piano Solos Vol 2, Lumiere, & Vorleben
  • Hauschka - The Prepared Piano, Room to Expand, & Ferndorf
  • Jean-Yves Thibaudet - Satie: The Magic of Satie
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson - IBM 1401 A User's Manual, Englabörn, & Fordlândia
  • Jonsí - Riceboy Sleeps, We Bought a Zoo
  • Matthew Robert Cooper - Miniatures, Some Days Are Better Than Others
  • Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks, Songs From Before, & 24 Postcards in Full Color
  • Ólafur Arnalds - Eulogy for Evolution, Dyad 1909, Found Songs, ...and they have escaped the weight of darkness, & Living Room Songs
  • Peter Broderick - Float, Music for Falling from Trees, Docile, & Music for Confluence
  • Philip Glass - Solo Piano, Glassworks, & The Hours

It's music that realigns my soul. It gets me to sit and stare at the page every morning for the two hours I've carved out for writing. It's a familiar friend providing just the right amount of distraction to get me past my discomfort of those first thirty minutes of not knowing what to write and trust the process that something will come today.