October 2014: Altar Bar, Pittsburgh. I am at a Com Truise show with a good friend. About six weeks prior to the show I broke my left foot and ankle, and I was still wearing a cast and taking painkillers because it didn’t heal properly (but that’s a story for another post). My friend and I sat at the back of the bar and let the multicolored lights and synthwave vibes consume us.
Com Truise played one of my favorite songs, “Subsonic.” As my eyes followed the light show to the beat, my altered mind conjured a fantastical vision: a scared boy, running through the woods in the middle of the harsh Pennsylvania winter. He stops at a large snow-covered mound with glowing eyes. My body was overwhelmed with excitement and terror. This became the inspiration for my novel Mechanica Atrocitas, which is currently in the first phase of editing. I wrote the rough draft while listening to Com Truise’s album Galactic Melt.
For many writers, it is much easier to get into the writing zone by listening to music that inspires them. Writing and music share a beautiful relationship; Mechanica Atrocitas sometimes feels like my tribute to Galactic Melt. Some writers even include their musical influences within their work; one of the most prolific examples being Haruki Murakami, who name drops musicians and songs in nearly all of his work.
It is important to find the best writing music for you. While many writers enjoy classical music, I tend to find it just as distracting as lyrical pop. You may find that the time of year or your genre of choice will determine the best music. For example, every year during NaNoWriMo I find my greatest inspiration while listening to Christmas music – so much so that the opening scene of my (unfinished) 2016 NaNo project features my protagonists singing along to Wham!’s “Last Christmas” (RIP George Michael).
The most common advice I’ve read about finding the right writing music is to avoid songs with lyrics. This is wise, though I have written short stories after being inspired by a pop song. When this happen, I tend to listen to the song on repeat until I finish my first draft. Thank goodness for headphones, or my boyfriend would hate me! Classical music is popular, but as I already mentioned, it doesn’t work for me. Synthwave/chillwave, electronica, lo-fi hip hop, vaporwave and future funk are worth trying. Each of these styles are mainly instrumental and embody different energies, which are further varied by song and artist.
Lyrical pop in a language that is foreign to you could also work well. K-pop (Korean pop music) is a popular genre choice full of variety, ranging from love ballads to hip hop. I have also listened to Chinese rap, Japanese rock, and Brazilian ska. Check out TuneIn, which has live streams of radio stations from around the world. This could be especially beneficial if you are trying to capture the spirit of a different place: you may live in the UK, but you could listen to what your Colombian protagonist could be singing along to on the radio in real time!
Artists, YouTube channels, and playlists that I use the most include:
- Artzie Music: an awesome channel full of high-energy future funk and retro, instrumental dance music.
- STEEZYASFUCK: my all-time favorite channel, full of instrumental, lo-fi hip hop beat tapes.
- Tokimonsta: Midnight Menu and Creature Dreams are both great, chill instrumental albums. Both are available on Amazon.
- Nujabes: Pretty much everything by Nujabes calms and inspires me.
- J Dilla: J Dilla was the master of instrumental hip hop. Donuts is his most popular album, for good reasons (also available on CD, MP3, cassette, and vinyl on Amazon). I recommend his entire discography.
- DJ Okawari – Kaleidoscope: This album has lyrics, but I’ve never found it to be distracting. In fact, I’ve found it incredibly easily to get lost in DJ Okawari’s beats. Here’s his official SoundCloud.
- Majestic Casual: a channel with a wide range of chill music. I’m fond of their hour-long Sunday chill mix.
- Bsd.u – [late night bumps 1-4]: There are lyrics, but I find them hard to notice.
- Lost in the woods/Mori Girl playlist: Sometimes I get in a forest/nature mood, and the best forest vibes I’ve found were in this 8tracks playlist. Packed with 70 great songs, it was my go-to until 8tracks placed a limit on how many hours I could listen to per month.
- Nintendo music compilations: Video games are full of musical gems. Lacking lyrics, they are designed to enhance focus and avoid distraction. I prefer Nintendo soundtracks, like late night music from Animal Crossing and this relaxing playlist from various Nintendo games.
- Current drink: Lagunitas Citrusinensis Pale Ale
- Current book: The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
- Current audio book: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
- Current music: jinsang – life [full album]