I never used to listen to music much when I wrote. I found it distracting and noisy and generally annoying, regardless of what happened to be coming out of the record/cassette/CD/mp3 player. I needed complete and utter silence to be able to scrawl anything more than my name and Social Security Number on a page, so when I was in high school or college, that meant turning my room into a Cone of Silence, generally by writing and studying in the wee small hours of the morning. (That requirement for total silence, of course, precluded the machine-gun rat-a-tat of my 1930’s-era Underwood typewriter. Damn, I miss that baby. Very His Girl Friday.)
Of course, you know what happens next. More recently (say, the last two years), I discovered the joys of coffee, and with that came the joy of coffeehouses. And yeah, I do mean Starbucks, too. Where I came from, Starbucks was pretty much the only game in town, having either driven away the majority of the indie coffeehouses or banished them to the nether regions of even remoter suburbs than mine.
I found that I really loved the idea of writing in coffeehouses, the feeling of being a part of this long tradition of creating revolutionary ideas in coffeehouses of old, dating back to Sartre and de Beauvoir holding court in Paris’ Cafe de Flore, or more recently, Jon Favreau writing the screenplay for the classic guy flick Swingers at the 101 Coffee Shop in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, part of the experience of writing in coffee shops is often also
suffering through listening to the music that day’s baristas choose to play over the sound system. Sometimes, they play decent music, but most of the time it’s offensive and loud and incapable of providing any kind of literary inspiration unless you’re, well, Ozzy Osbourne.
So I’ve learned to listen to my own music, to actually plug headphones in my ears and defend myself with my own playlist. And surprisingly, I’ve found that, so long as I carefully calibrate my music choices to fit the type of prose I need to conjure up, I can usually type up quite a storm, losing myself in my words while also half-listening to the soundtrack that Pandora willingly supplies in the background.
My current novel? Needs Yo-Yo Ma’s cello pieces, for sure. The more dramatic and ominous — befitting the wartime setting — the better.
Writing blog posts? Depending on the topic, it could be Brazilian jazz, Chicago blues, or — lately — Christmas music. (I’m listening to Brian McKnight singing “Christmas Time is Here” as I write this.)
Writing email? Again, Christmas music of late, or perhaps some 80’s pop, depending on the recipient.
What about you? Assuming you listen to music while you write, what’s on your playlist?