Writing to Music

I am a HUGE fan of writing to music.

I wrote my PhD to 8 hours of Tori Amos on loop, and ‘Sleeps with Butterflies’ can still take me straight into that place, in the small room of my own upstairs in the back of a vicarage in Cambridge.

When I wrote the article about Judith Wright, the one where it all just came together in 3 months and was so easy, the one I raved about in my blog about the Cornell Method, I was listening to Carly Rae Jepson, with her happy, boppy poppy music.

And then when I was working on the doomed article on Kenneth Slessor that didn’t work out… I wonder if, quite apart from the fact that it was DOOMED and my life was waaaay too busy, the fact that I was listening to Lorde and Passenger, and, yes the music is good, but it also made me feel sad.

I need music to pick me up and throw me into my up, energised, motivated, happy writing place.

But I also can’t keep listening to music after it’s become associated with a particular project. I love this song by Nadeah, but it belongs to the article about Kathleen Raine, and the house in Brunswick West, and sunlight in the lemon tree, and three years ago, and I don’t live there any more.

Right now, I’m doing everything to Janelle Monae, and am planning to think about androids, cyborgs and electric identities for my final assessment for ‘An introduction to digital environments for learning’.

And to end that, I recommend this:

Music for Writing (Volume 2): 120 words-per-minute by Elektronicheslernenmuzik, a project associated with the Masters I’m working on.

Introducing Volume 2 of Music for Writing, the product of this exercise that we undertook last yearto explore the music that students, researchers, teachers and tutors use to accompany and influence the task of academic writing.

What music do you use to write to?


  1. Cool post, Katherine! I have found that I can’t really write to music that has lyrics. I just got distracted by the words. So I usually listen to epic videogame or epic film soundtracks, classical, or ambient dance music to write.

  2. I enjoyed reading this article. Music and writing is one of my favorite subjects. Depending on the project at hand, I listen to Cowboy Junkies when writing the pithy stuff when the words won’t come out as they are in my head. Glenn Gould performing Bach is also a sure venue. Loud harpsichord music is on the menu whenever I have to work with numbers.
    Excuse me as leave to continue with parts 2 and 3.

      1. Hi Katherine,
        Ah, there you have chosen a song so sublime. I never tire listening to it. I have all of their albums on a Spotify playlist. Listen to “Angels in the Wilderness”. I was telling a friend about your blog and writing to music. She gushed about Debussy’s Nocturnes in an orchestrated version (Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez), providing that it is played loud. She uses it whenever she had to deal with and write about the sticky situations in her legal practice. It creates a sort of buffer against the crap people do to each other. I am currently writing a piece on music and emotion. Why can it cause people to weep for joy, etc. How does it heal? Finding the words to get my thoughts and theories out intelligently is quite challenging.I have the specific musical example as well as the the artists selected, but the rest is piecemeal. We’ll see.
        Yeah, I know I am not alone with Baroque music and I am glad. Too wonderful not to share.
        Looking forward to reading more from you.
        Btw, do you play an instrument? I play the French Horn.

      2. I love the idea of a “buffer against the crap people do to each other”–another kind of sanctuary in sound!
        Music and emotion is an enormous topic–it sounds like it might be piecemeal because it’s actually a series… I look forward to reading it!
        I sing in choirs–which might influence my preference for music with words to help me work!

  3. Great post! Whenever I really need to zero in and focus, I listen to cheesy Broadway showtunes. It doesn’t make the most sense for “getting in the zone,” but it’s what I grew up on. Then, in college, during that first lonely year when I would stay up late into the night writing essays or drawing organic molecules, I would put on Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables, and feel both relaxed and heightened. Audible comfort food, if you will. Now, over a decade later, it’s still what I go back to when I really need to crank something out–like the final chapter of this dissertation.

    1. I love this! There is no ‘right’ writing music, but there is music that makes you feel “both relaxed and heightened” (the perfect way to describe it!).
      I’m currently searching for the next Thing–John Newman is getting a lot of air play in my office!

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