Music to Write by

Each writer-in-the-making has their own method to spark creativity or break through procrastination, lack of motivation and writer’s block. Several bloggers from the Surrey New Writers Festival team have already written some great advice on this subject, so I thought I would explore my own take on this — the importance of background music.

“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.”

Elton John

I have finally found time to write. I have cleaned my desk, turned off my phone, put aside distractions, filled my water bottle. There are no more excuses. So, before I put pen to paper – or more accurately, keystroke to screen – there is only one thing left to do. This is to select the music that will inspire my words for the next few hours.

Some writers cannot work to background noise. But for me, and many others, it is essential. And it must be music of a certain type – classical music, film soundtracks and epic scores to inspire drama and emotion – or soft piano music to transport me to another world.

In essence, not just any type of music: it must be music to write by.

I have recently completed my first draft of a fantasy novel, during which I built up a considerable playlist from many sources. I cannot emphasise enough how much I owe to these pieces of music, hovering in the background and unlocking my imagination each day.

With this in mind, I thought I would share several of my favourite works to inspire your own writing sessions. Why not give them a try next time you are struggling for inspiration?

The Village soundtrack

James Newton Howard

It is difficult to conjure the words required to describe my feelings when listening to this enchanting soundtrack. One of my top go-to pieces of music for any writing session, James Newton Howard’s soundtrack to the criminally underrated (and often misunderstood) film by M. Night Shyamalan contains some of the most beautiful violin work you will ever hear, playing in perfect harmony with the piano. Check out ‘The Gravel Road’ for a flawless example.

Interstellar soundtrack

Hans Zimmer

Putting aside the film, which is arguably a masterful modern sci-fi classic, special attention has to be placed on Hans Zimmer’s wonderful soundtrack. There is something strangely unique about the repetitive, haunting, and almost sadly reflective music that painstakingly builds up, only to halt and repeat in new ways. Out of all the film soundtracks I have listened to, I think this is the most versatile, suiting any genre of writing. It also has an uncanny ability to help you completely lose yourself. The first time I listened to it, I only intended to write for a couple of hours. Six or so hours later, I suddenly realised the time and that I had not even stopped for lunch!

The Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit film soundtracks

Howard Shore

The Lord of the Rings is rightly categorised as one of the most remarkable epic film series ever made. The first in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Rings, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, moving it steadily closer to the realm of all-time classic cinema. The Hobbit films were arguably much less refined as film spectacles; however, I have never heard anyone criticise Howard Shore’s masterful compositions. You can now listen to the full, uncut ‘complete recordings’ of each film score on Spotify. All six recordings clock in at over 18 hours, providing ample soundscape for any epic writing session.

The Planets Suite

Gustav Holst

Holst’s ‘The Planets’ suite is one of the most beloved classical compositions of all time, and it is not hard to see why. Cycling through seven planets from our solar system, Holst gives each planet its own theme and style, based on their corresponding astrological characters. For example, Mars becomes ‘the bringer of war’ with one of the most dramatic war-like pieces of music you will hear. Meanwhile, Saturn ‘the bringer of old age’ offers a slow and mournful companion, while Neptune ‘the mystic’ offers a magical, fairy-tale melody that transports you to a mystical kingdom.

I hope you enjoyed these recommendations. If you prefer to stick on one extensive playlist that captures a wide range of music in this style, why not check out my own on Spotify? This playlist clocks in at over 21 hours and should keep you inspired for many weeks to come!

If you have your own go-to ‘music to write by’ recommendations, why not let us know in the comments below?

About the author

Alexander Comley is currently studying an MA in Creative Writing at Surrey University and holds a special interest in reading and writing ghost stories, fantasy, and historical fiction. You can also check out his gaming blog here. When he is not writing, Alex can be seen headbanging with his heavy metal band, Bangover.


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