If I’m at my computer, music of some type is usually playing. Given that most of my work after the first draft is done at the same computer, the effect music can have on it is a large concern. Is music’s effect on writing positive or negative? The answer in my experience, depends on a few factors.
Vocal, Instrumental, and Tempo
Whether the music is instrumental or vocal can change how it effects my writing. Though I don’t notice it in non-creative circumstances, my sub-conscious tends to focus on lyrics. As humans are so hard-wired to communicate, I think the brain tries to find meaning or message in any words it hears. If I’m doing work that involves creativity or deep thought, vocal music will create a fog or static. Whatever segment of my brain that is trying to interpret the lyrics seems to be the same one I use creatively.
Instrumentals on the other hand, tend to affect my mood more than anything. Without vocals, they are less distracting, and can really help ideas flow. Matching the feel and tempo of a song to the mood of what I’m trying to write has the greatest effect. Clashing moods and tempos however, can be almost as detrimental as lyrics.
Maximizing Music’s Effect on Writing Creatively
Instrumental music with ambient sounds or a complimentary mood can really boost my writing. The effects are more apparent when I’m planning out a scene, or trying to visualize a setting. If it’s happy or dramatic, high tempo instrumentals work wonders. For sad or somber scenes, slow tempo music in minor scales work best.
Examples of good instrumental music can include classical music, trance music, or even drum and bass – Go with whatever best fits your tastes. Though this article is about music’s effect on writing, ambient sound in itself is helpful. Many people report enhanced productivity in coffee shops largely due to the ambient noise. Personally, I find the talking has a similar effect on my writing to lyrics and vocals.
Though it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Diverse System’s “Works 4” is hugely useful when I need an extra boost. Video game and movie OST are also very useful. As many games use music to heighten the mood in a given scene, they work very well for creative writing. Anything from Yasunori Mitsuda (of Chrono Trigger, and Xenogears fame) is particularly good.
Using Music to get through Repetitive Tasks
Music’s effect on writing can be particularly noticeable in repetitive and less creative writing tasks. Compiling lists, doing paragraph formatting, and even deciding on character and location names are all helped by the right music.
For such tasks, whatever music I have with a relatively quick tempo helps, lyrics or not. The goal in this case is mainly to help the time pass and add a rhythm to my work. Mood or atmosphere are less of a concern.