What do you listen to when you're writing?

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To me, music is a kind of magic.  There are few other things that have the power to alter people's emotions the way that music does.  And it's instinctive - babies respond to music.  Sometimes strangely and wonderfully so, in the case of our head-banging baby below.


People have asked what I listen to when I write and I think it's a really appropriate question.  I draw tremendous influence from music.  There are particular kinds of music I listen to when I'm writing certain things or am in certain moods.  It's all a part of my creative process.  

For example, I was writing content about the Æsterverse's version of World War One, the Great War, and there were two songs that I had on repeat in my playlists.  As you might imagine, what I was writing was pretty grim stuff.  These songs helped keep the emotional temperature up so that I could get to the emotions I wanted to evoke. 

Within Temptation - Our Solemn Hour

VNV Nation - Nemesis

I tend to listen Pandora and Youtube 'soundtrack' mixes most of the time.  Audiomachine, Two Steps from Hell and Thomas Bergerson are some of my favorites.


Audiomachine - An Unfinished Life (Pandora 'Siren' version) is one of the most emotional pieces of music I've ever heard.  I don't know why this particular piece of music hits me so hard, but it does - every time I listen to it.  I hear loss and sacrifice playing out when I listen to it; nobility, cowardice, fear.  This music has supported, inspired and deepened so many scenes I've written. 

Audiomachine- Legacy of the Lost - This piece of music is tied to one of the most pivotal events in the of history in the Æsterverse.  The æstership Forger Perseus is disabled in battle.  Without power to fight against the strong currents, she is dragged toward the wall of an æster storm, which will surely destroy her.  Perseus' sister ship, Forger Agamemnon ties onto her with tow cables and grapples in an attempt to save her.  Forger Agamemnon's captain, "Edger" Lancaster, and Perseus' captain Sam Ward are lifelong friends.  Edger continues to fight to save Perseus even as they come under attack by enemy ships.  Tied onto her wounded sister and unable to maneuver, Forger Agamemnon is a sitting duck.  But Edger refuses to abandon his friend, even when Sam Ward demands he leave them.  Captain Ward finally orders the tow cables and grapples cut, sending the transmission, "I'll be damned If I will drag Agamemnon down with us!"  Sam Ward's sacrifice of Forger Perseus and her crew gives Edger and Forger Agamemnon a fighting chance.  It begins the saga of one of the most storied ships and captains in the history of the æsterverse and gives rise to the toast shared by all Forger crews, "Remember the Perseus!"   

I do listen to film soundtracks, or at least parts of them, but generally I go for things that don't have specific imagery for me yet.  They give me space to fill in what the music is telling me.

But there are times when I want the emotions that I associate with scenes from movies, so they go into my playlists.  "Brothers in Arms" from "Mad Max: Fury Road" fits firmly into that category.  The camaraderie between Max and Furiosa is great, especially given how tenuous their relationship is up to that point.  And the intensity of that music really drives me when I'm writing stuff where characters lives are in each other's hands.   The Devil and the Hunstman from "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" is another that has particular power.  It's primal, ancient and is something I have had in my playlists a lot as I work on my modern fantasy novel. 

And then there's "Wonder Woman's Wrath."  I don't know anyone who doesn't feel it when this music plays.



Some music is a writing prompt in itself.  It's so evocative that I immediately see imagery when I listen to it.


"Shenavallie Farm" - The Wicked Tinkers (with Jay Atwood on the Didgeridoo) - The video is terrible, but this specific rendition always gives me goosebumps.  Being of Scottish descent, the bagpipes always get my blood moving, but it's the Didgeridoo's haunting voice that really makes this song special.


"See the World Burn" - Goran Dragaš & AsjaKadrić 

And VNV Nation's "The Farthest Star" has been not only the inspiration for some stories, but also sort of the support soundtrack for others. 

World, celtic and ancient music play a big part in what I listen to when I'm writing tribal or fantastical elements.  I was introduced to ethnomusicology when I was taking undergraduate classes in anthropology and this kind of music really struck a chord in me.  Pun intended?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  And of course I heard a wide variety of medieval/ancient music over the years I was in the SCA. 


"Sztoj pa moru" - Laboratorium Pieśni  This particular piece is one that's stuck with me since the first time I heard it.


Hard rock and heavy metal are a go-to for me when I'm writing action.  It's hard to find better music to churn up the kind of intensity I want to capture in those scenes.  These are just a couple of my favorites. 

AC/DC - Shoot to Thrill, Thunderstruck

Metallica - Seek and Destroy


Everyone's got classical favorites.  I'm no different.  Sometimes, they feel a bit cliche' because they've been used so often, but I still can't hear Adagio for Strings without getting goose bumps.

Samuel Barber - Adagio for Strings

Escala - Palladio

Carl Orff - Carmina Burana


If music's power is in it's ability to evoke emotions in us, then it's the blood of storytelling.  Storytelling, when done right, reaches down into us and grabs our emotions at our hearts, right from our bones.  Music does this whether we're conscious of the story it's telling or not.  It cuts past our rational brains and hits us in the guts.  And as a writer, that's what I always want to do, have my reader feel.  A friend once told me, "If it gives you goosebumps, it'll give them goosebumps."  So, if I listen to something that makes me feel, it's easier to pass on those emotions in my writing.