Whistle while you work?

"Headphones" by flattop341 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Headphones” by flattop341 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I have always had a problem listening to music while writing. Whether it’s rock, jazz, bluegrass, whatever — I find that my head gets lost in listening, and the tappity-tap sounds from my keyboard slow to a crawl.

I have known many writers, however, whose writing is facilitated, even driven, by music. I once had a housemate who could only write while listening to loud pop music (which wasn’t exactly conducive to my own writing). Matthew Peters listens to classical music when he writes.  Some books, like Nathan Kotecki’s The Suburban Strange, are not only inspired by music but even structured around a playlist of sorts.

Tyler Johnson’s Tales from the Red Book of Tunes, a collection of related stories, includes music composed by the writer for each short story. It helps that Tyler is also an accomplished musician.

And then there’s musically challenged me.

While I have used a playlist in my revision process, I find that when I’m working on a first draft my preference is absolute quiet. Unfortunately, absolute quiet is a condition that is seldom met in my natural habitat (which includes a teenager — ’nuff said). Sometimes I can focus when there’s other noise, but often I can’t. So what’s my solution?


No, not actually watching them. Listening to their soundtracks. While I can’t focus if I listen to anything with words or catchy patterns (including jazz or bluegrass), I find that film scores provide the perfect alternative. Using Pandora, I can build a channel of movie music that even suits the general mood of the book. So not only do I drown out any background noise, but I’m actually listening to something that gets me in the right frame of mind for the work at hand.

Curiously, listening to classical music doesn’t really work for this — I just find it too engaging. Maybe since film scores are meant as an accompaniment to the main, visual attraction, they don’t overwhelm me on a conscious level.

Are you similarly challenged? I’d love to know what works for you.

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2 Responses to Whistle while you work?

  1. Chris, have you tried listening to nature sounds? They often help me as well as classical. The sound of the rain or the ocean are pretty good bets as are the songs of the humpback whales.

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