The Best Writing Playlist


The next time you head into a coffee shop or library, look around for writers working at their laptops. Chances are they have headphones in and are listening to…something. But what exactly is that something? What makes the perfect writing playlist?

Like most things with the writing process, the best writing playlist for an author is largely up to the author themselves. Some prefer instrumental music, while others need the high energy of intense heavy metal. Most probably have a few different options that they can turn to, depending on the type of writing that they need to do.

Some writers curate elaborate playlists to set them in a scene as they write. One tip I got early in my fiction writing journey was to create a playlist of songs for each of your characters. Sounds play a big role in my writing and description, so it would make sense that what I listen to as I write is an important part of my process.

Here are a few guided questions that can help you hone in on the perfect soundtrack for your writing.

  • What music does that character listen to when they’re happy? Mad? Sad? Generate a playlist for each.
  • What mood or emotion do you want to evoke in this scene? What songs made YOU feel that way?
  • Do lyrics distract you? Be honest! If you’re too busy singing along, you won’t get much writing done.

While creating a soundtrack to your novel is a fun exercise (and allows you to dream about the amazing movie that your incredible book will, of course, be made into one day soon…right?), don’t let it distract you from the actual task of writing. If you have the best writing playlist ever but no actual words on the page, you don’t have a writing playlist. You just have a playlist. Still cool, just not what you need.

I pick a genre, artist, or song that inspires me in the way that I want to be inspired for this particular scene, create a Pandora station, and let their algorithms take it from there. As a bonus, I also discover new music, which is always fun.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Instrumental: Movie soundtrack stations are my favorite. The emotion swells get me every time and make my writing feel epic, even when I’m just writing a scene about a character standing in line at the DMV. Favorites: Hans Zimmer, Steve Jablonsky, Randy Edelman, Hammock
  • Indie: When I want to feel creative and original, I turn to indie artists with a strong folksy vibe. This is definitely a personal preference since most of these artists are ones that I enjoy even when I’m not writing. This is my go-to when I’m editing. Favorites: Indie Rock Radio on Pandora, Bon Iver, Alexi Murdoch, Ray LaMontagne, The Head & the Heart
  • Angsty: Nothing satisfies like a good, long cry. If I’m writing a tragic scene (or struggling from particularly bad writer’s block), I’ll turn on something to bring out all the angry tears. I tend toward early 2000’s artists, probably because that’s when I was myself an angsty teen. Oh to be young… Favorites: Skylar Grey, Dashboard Confessional, Shinedown
  • Upbeat: For those scenes where I want the reader (and me) to be tapping their toes, dancing in their seat, and generally loving life, I have to get into that headspace myself. Things I can hum along to (or sing loudly, on the rare occasion I’m at home alone writing) are my jam. Favorites: Jack’s Mannequin, Bruno Mars, Angels & Airwaves, Broadway Showtunes Radio

I almost exclusively put on instrumental music when I’m writing a first draft. Lyrics are very distracting for me if I’m still trying to work out the story and get to know my characters. Depending on how much I’m revising and what I’m working out in the editing process, I can enjoy some other options. But I’ve learned over the years (and many unproductive writing days) that if I’m struggling to focus, I probably need to adjust my music to something less distracting.

Today’s writing station. Can you guess what I’m doing?

Screen Shot 2020-08-15 at 8.56.32 AM

Some people can tune out the world and write without any music on. If that’s you, please know that I am super jealous! And impressed with your discipline and focus. That’s not me. Or anyone in my family. <A crash, followed by maniacal laughter trickles in from the other room, even through my headphones. I sigh and turn up the volume.>

What do you listen to when you write? Or wash dishes? Or do what you do?

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