A Soundtrack to Your Work: Writing to Music

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Image: Chance Agrella (freerangestock.com)

I write this just as I hear the news that Icelandic composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, has died. He composed music for films including Sicario, Prisoners, Arrival, and The Theory of Everything. I had the chance to watch The Theory of Everything in college and was mystified by the beautiful soundtrack. So hearing this news today shocked and saddened as I’m sure it has for many of his colleagues and fans. In tribute to a man gone too soon from this world and to focus on the idea of writing, I want to dedicate this post to music.

As a writer, I always found myself looking up music from movie soundtracks, particular composers, and more to help me get a feel for a scene I was writing. My creativity would be motivated by the music and sometimes even create ideas I never considered before! If I wrote in silence, I always found it harder to come up with anything even though I could hear my own thoughts better. Music took away those distracting thoughts and allowed me to focus on my work a lot better, too.

Music while writing first entered my life my first year of college during a Creative Writing for the Theatre course. My professor always started off our class by taking five minutes to free write. He had instrumental music play during the duration so we could focus on our writing. Some days we were given a specific prompt, others were up to us. I always found these free writes stimulating and our class discussions interesting because we all had our different styles of creativity. We also came up with some ideas we never considered and sometimes kept them for later use. As the semester went on, using music to write helped me produce scenes for my monologues and short plays, pieces I still hold on to to this day. Since that class, music while writing is a part of my process.

If you need ideas for composers to listen to, here’s a list of my favorites:

  • Hans Zimmer (he also has a MasterClass on Film Scoring)
  • Alan Menken
  • James Horner (RIP to him as well, he passed away in 2015 :'()
  • James Newton Howard
  • Craig Armstrong
  • A.R. Rahman
  • Two Steps from Hell (you might have heard many of their pieces in your favorite movie trailers)

To make your search easier, consider looking up playlists of the artist in question or looking up your favorite movie. Sometimes you have to play around with the music you hear until you find ones that fit your scene, or entire story, well. I know not everyone listens to music while writing, but if you’re someone who does, I hope the habit has been productive for you as it has for me!

Do you listen to music while writing? Who are some of your favorite composers? Feel free to share! Also, in honor of Jóhann Jóhannsson, please consider looking up his music online.

Happy writing!

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