It can be hard to sit down and start writing.
Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve worked on your manuscript. Maybe you’re stuck on a scene that’s particularly tricky to write. Or maybe you’re just not in the right mood, but you want to be.
Well, we’ve got a tried and true method of getting yourself in the groove for writing: a writing playlist.
Read on for everything you need to know about creating a killer playlist to get you in the zone for writing!
What is a writing playlist?
A writing playlist is any music playlist that helps you write.
Some writers need complete silence to get the words flowing. But for those of us who enjoy some background music, finding the perfect writing playlist is essential.
There are some existing playlists on Spotify, but every writer is different and has their own writing practices and habits, which means every writer tends to have their own writing playlist preferences.
Why make a writing playlist?
We’ve all had those days when we’re sitting at our computer, hands hovering over the keyboard, ready to write… but not a word comes out. In this situation, a writing playlist can be like a jumpstart.
Our senses are strongly linked to memory and recognition. If you can use your playlist to help your brain associate certain songs with writing, you’ll be able to kickstart yourself almost immediately each time you hit play.
Additionally, a writing playlist is great for setting a mood. Create an environment with sound. Use your music as a source of inspiration.
A bonus benefit: if you don’t live alone, your partner, family or roommates will start to recognise your writing playlist. It’s a good sign for them to leave you to work for a while before popping by to chat!
What is the best app to create a playlist?
There are plenty of music apps available. The best one to create a playlist for writers is the music app you use the most.
The key is to choose an app and stick to it. Jumping from app to app can be confusing and time-consuming, which means less writing.
A lot of people use Spotify to create their playlists. There are a few reasons for this: Spotify’s music offering is huge, it’s free to stream any song from the library, and playlists are sharable.
General guidelines for writing playlists
You can make a playlist for writing with whichever songs work for you, but there are certain patterns that tend to emerge with all writing playlists.
Consider the following points before jumping in, and you might be able to save yourself some time.
Lyrics are great for telling a story, and they can work really well in a story or book playlist (which we’ll talk about below). But for the practice of writing, lyrics can be distracting rather than motivating.
Try to stick to instrumental music to ensure you stay focused.
Don’t pick too many songs you absolutely love
By the end of your draft, you might be totally sick of the songs in your writing playlist, at least for a little while.
Pick songs that you enjoy but that don’t have a strong emotional significance, lest you never want to hear them again!
Explore beyond your comfort zone
So you mostly listen to country pop, but your book is set in Renaissance England? You’re probably going to have to branch out from your usual artists!
Try out new genres to find music (and inspiration) you otherwise might never have come across.
Keep it alive
Your writing playlist is always in motion. You’ll always be adding to it. And that’s a good thing! Your playlist should grow with you and with your writing.
Every time you stumble across a new song that’s inspiring, motivating or relevant to your story, be sure to add it to your playlist.
What does a writing playlist need?
There are a few things every writer should consider when building their writing playlist.
Before you get too deep into your music app and start adding every song you love, take a moment to consider what you actually need, and what will boost your creative process.
What’s your writing style? What music works for you?
Some writers love listening to their favourite songs while they write. For them, it turns writing into a party. Other writers favour mellow tones that create a soft wave of sound in the background.
Some people love listening to lyrics, especially if they find them motivating. Others find that lyrics get distracting. (Ever accidentally start writing down the lyrics you’re hearing instead of the dialogue you meant to write?!)
Think about your preferences and the way you work best, and tailor your playlist to suit.
Do you need multiple writing playlists?
Some writers will have just one writing playlist; others will have multiple.
Try creating one playlist for each genre or category you write in. You might need a young adult playlist, a kid’s lit playlist, a sci-fi playlist, and a historical playlist.
Finally, you might simply want to create a separate playlist for each manuscript you write.
The best thing is that you can make as many playlists as you want. You just have to know where to start.
How to make a playlist for writing
Much like writing itself, you can take a planner or a pantser approach to making a writing playlist.
A planner might look at other writing playlists and pull a few songs from each into a master playlist that works for them. They might dedicate an entire day to researching and building their perfect playlist.
A pantser, on the other hand, might just add any song that takes their fancy when they’re listening to music on shuffle, building their playlist on the fly.
Just like there’s no correct way to write, there’s no correct approach to creating a playlist. Just remember that you will probably need to go edit your playlist to get it to the stage you want it to be at.
And whether you’re a pantser, a planner, or a plantser, no matter how you create your playlist (or how you write), the first step is finding inspiration.
Writing playlist inspiration and ideas
If you don’t already have songs in mind for your writing playlist, starting from scratch can be intimidating. Fortunately, there are plenty of sources of inspiration for writing playlists.
Other writing playlists
Plenty of writers before you have put time and effort into creating inspiring playlists. Start by searching your music app of choice for key terms like ‘writing’.
If you use Spotify, the brand itself has even made a playlist: Music for Writing: Piano music to accompany and inspire your writing. But don’t stop there – user-generated playlists are often even better.
You might even find your favourite author has some public playlists, like Claribel Ortega’s Middle Grade Fantasy playlist for writers, or Sabaa Tahir’s playlists for her debut novel An Ember in the Ashes.
Check your favourite author’s website or social media to see if they’ve published a writing playlist you can listen to or use for inspiration.
Sometimes, authors get asked what soundtrack would accompany their story if it were turned into a film. But when you’re still writing the story, why not turn this idea on its head and soundtrack your story from the get-go?
For best results, choose a movie in the same genre as your work. A rom-com playlist, for example, might not compliment an action-driven sci-fi story.
Try searching around for a soundtrack that fits either the vibe of your writing project or your personal writing style.
Video game soundtracks
Movie and TV soundtracks are great for immersing us in the story, but there’s another medium that’s even more immersive, where the music has to be downright experiential: video games.
Whether you’re a gamer or not, there’s a whole world of video game soundtracks to explore and pull from to build your writing playlist.
The majority of the music used in video game soundtracks doesn’t have lyrics, which makes it perfect for when you just need background music for your own words.
Almost all video games feature original scores. You’ll find songs designed specifically to capture you in a moment, to make you feel the emotions you’re acting out with your in-game character.
All the better for creating your own emotion-fuelled scenes.
Try exploring a variety of different game genres to find songs to inspire you, pump you up and help you power through another chapter.
Action games like the Assassin’s Creed franchise have great scores for writing sneaky moments as well as fight scenes. High fantasy stories like Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition are full of epic, moving moments and music to go with them.
Rhythm games like Crypt of the Necrodancer have beat-heavy tracks to keep you going, while charming games like Untitled Goose Game are accompanied by soothing music that’s perfect for a relaxing day of writing.
While some writers listen to soundtracks, instrumental songs and mellow music, others need ambient noise.
Some people do their best work in a café or in a park. The sounds of life around them inspire them to create fantastic stories. But a café or park isn’t always available. What if the urge to start writing hits at 2am?
Ambient noise playlists for writers are becoming more and more popular – especially after 2020, when a lot of people couldn’t leave their homes. If you thrive on soft, ambient sound, make yourself a playlist full of it!
You don’t need to have a musical or orchestral soundtrack in the background of your writing. If you work best while listening to coffee shop noise, that’s great! You’ve found your muse.
How to Make a Story Playlist
We mentioned earlier that some writers create a soundtrack for their book as if it were a movie. A story playlist is a bit like that.
This involves creating a playlist to suit one particular story, such as the novel you’re currently working on or planning to write.
Some story playlists will follow the beats of the story; a sad song corresponds to a sad moment in the story, and so on. Other story playlists are designed to capture the energy of a story or a book as a whole.
Why make a story playlist?
While a writing playlist is usually designed to help you get in the zone to write, a story playlist that captures the narrative movement or overall feeling of a book can simply be fun to make.
It’s also an excellent exercise to ensure you understand your story and its various beats.
Story playlists are also shareable, and you can use them to generate interest in your book – to engage audiences and tease what to expect in the story.
Mood or narrative – which is more important?
If you’re making a playlist for a specific story, you will often have to decide which you want to prioritise with your music: the mood of your story, or the narrative of your story.
If translating the narrative arc of your story into music is your goal, choose songs to represent the key beats of the narrative and take listeners on a journey.
If the mood or the vibe of your story playlist is the most important part, that’s great too. Explore genres and artists to find songs that feel like they match the energy of your story.
Examples of story playlists from writers
- The playlist for You Were Made for Me by Jenna Guillaume captures the energy of this YA book. It’s full of teen angst, romance and crushes, and girl power.
- The playlist for a different type of romance story, Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights, contains songs that are full of drama to match the vibe of this Romeo & Juliet retelling.
- For V. E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, Tor Books put together a playlist for the epic saga of the titular character. It’s full of melancholy, city atmospheres, and French language songs to tie in with the themes and settings of the book.
- You can also make playlists for your characters – that is, a playlist that a character might listen to themselves. Nina Varela did this for her two leads from Crier’s War, Crier and Ayla. Each of their playlists feature songs that represent who they are through the music they would listen to.
Reviewing your writing playlist
Like any creative work, once you’ve created your playlist, take the time to review it. Put on your editing cap and analyse it.
Does your writing playlist work?
We all know that a first draft is never perfect, and that goes for playlists too. But you won’t know where you need to fix, edit or alter your playlist until you use it.
Try to take notes and keep track of which songs work well for you. Did that soft instrumental relax you a little too much? Maybe leave it for a non-writing Sunday afternoon playlist instead.
If you notice yourself working well to certain tracks, check out the rest of that album or see what else that artist has produced. Maybe they have even more songs to help you write.
Save it for later
Writers often have to cut out scenes or even whole characters that they love, but that just don’t fit the story they’re writing right now.
If you have some songs that you love, but that are distracting you from your writing, remove them from your current playlist. But like scenes and characters, you can save them for your next project.
Above we mentioned the idea of having multiple writing playlists. Why not explore that possibility?
Save that one song that doesn’t feel right for writing your YA drama for your next story about swashbuckling pirates!
I’ve got a writing playlist – now what?
So, you’ve made the perfect writing playlist. Now it’s time to put it to use and start writing.
Of course, you might want to add some finishing touches – write a description, perfect the track order, add some cover art. But don’t let your playlist become a procrastination tool!
You’re armed and ready to tackle the writing challenge that’s ahead of you. So put on your headphones and get started!