How Do They Write Like That?

Before I started working at the UCWbL, I never, ever, ever, EVER listened to music while writing. I thought of it as a form of multitasking: a process in which my full attention could never completely be focused on what I was writing. So that was me, sitting soundlessly, staring at a screen with an absence of words, surrounded by headphoned UCWbLers . What was I missing?

The first time I decided to listen to music while writing was in my Writing Center Theory & Pedagogy class, working on a written feedback draft. A written feedback appointment is something we offer at the Writing Center for writers seeking  feedback on their work via email–they send us their papers, and we email them back a freshly-commented-upon draft. In class, we were offered the option to listen to music and, since everyone else was doing it, I decided to give it a try. I opened Spotify, selected an album by Andy Mckee, an acoustic guitarist, and much to my surprise, words spilled out onto the keyboard like a keyboard solo- or guitar solo, I guess. Anyways, I reveled in the fact that I could focus my attention on what I was writing, whilst sill hearing the music in the background. I realized that rather than stifling my productivity, it increased it.

If this sounds like you, and you never listen to music while you write, I would suggest that you try to. At least once. (Maddie N. agrees in her post, and Theresa B. suggests other sounds, if music isn’t your thing.) Personally, I like listening to instrumentals. While I can listen to instrumentals and stay focused, I can’t listen to music with vocals; I’ll start singing along and then lose my train of thought, but maybe that’s just me.

Another piece of advice I would offer if you’re new to the whole, ‘writing-with-music’ deal, is to listen to something you like, but something you’ve never heard before. Whether that’s a new album, or an old one, in my brief experience trying this, I’ve learned that if I don’t know how the song goes, I won’t sing or hum along and lose focus on my writing.

I used to think, ‘how do people write like that?’ I thought it was distracting. I realize now that I was so doubtful because I never tried it for myself. I fell victim to the ever-so ubiquitous, “You never know until you try”, because for the longest time, I didn’t know and I didn’t try.

So, where does that leave us? What works for you? What doesn’t? Comment below with your methods! No matter what it is, keep writing!


Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Shelley M. says:

    I find working on written feedback with music really helps me, but it has to be very specific. I can’t listen to anything too deep, so I usually listen to pop music, and I have to know it, otherwise I focus on what the musical structure is too much. I think it’s valid to say that everyone should try listening to something at some point though.

  • Maggie C. says:

    Personally, I prefer working somewhere like the library because it’s quiet. When I’m writing, I can’t listen to anything! I’ve tried listening to music multiple times, and it always ends up distracting me or I can’t “hear my thoughts” and throw my headphones out of frustration. However, I can work in more noisy areas like classrooms and coffeeshops; to me, those are more like white noise that helps me focus.

  • Jen Fu. says:

    I love listening to music while I work too. For some reason though, I can only handle wordless music like classical. Anything with words distracts me because I can’t help but sing along. I just hit up Pandora and jam out to Beethoven.