Sometimes being creative gets mundane if you do it every day, and the characters and plot you used to love writing about can seem dull and disappointing. To combat these feelings about my own writing, I create music playlists for each project. These playlists help me get lost in the creative process and transport me to the mental placeI need to be in for each project I’m working on.
The best playlists help me forget where and who I am so that I can really dive into the story and characters I’m creating. Here, I’ll give you some guidelines to follow when building a writing playlist and share some of the music I use to get my creativity flowing.
Utilize Songs That Transport You Into the Genre
Method actors become their characters by living as their characters did, whether that entails living off Cheetos for a year or learning to drive a race car. Sometimes writing requires a similar approach.
For example, if you’re writing a historical piece, then you might want to listen to songs from the time period you’re writing about. Whether that’s Mozart and Beethoven or Kanye West and Fall Out Boy, listening to music that makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time can really help you get in the zone. For example, this playlist is a sampling of the 1920s to 1960s:
When you can’t find music that was created during the time you’re writing about, try to find songs that feel like or remind you of the subject matter. For example, if you’ve created a fantasy world, it’s unlikely that your favorite music streaming service will have all the songs available from that world. However, if your setting resembles Outlander, Harry Potter, or The Lord of the Rings, you could sample the songs from those soundtracks to tap into your own fantasy world.
Find Songs That Put You in the Mind of the Character
If you’re having trouble connecting with one of your characters, create a playlist of songs that remind you of your character. You can then use this playlist to get in your character’s head and really start to understand them.
Sometimes this is really easy; for example, if you’re trying to write about a punk rocker, then you could listen to punk rock. Find music you think your character would enjoy and then just let the music inspire you. Sometimes the music will seep into your character’s dialogue, and other times it will just be a part of the creative process.
Of course, every character isn’t as cut and dry as a punk rocker, and getting into the mind of your character is often a lot harder than it seems. I meet this challenge by finding one song that totally embodies my character and then using the similar tracks feature on Spotify or Pandora to find other songs that might give me another perspective on my character.
Sometimes, all you can do is pick songs you think your character might like. Some of the songs you pick might even surprise you. For example, I recently wrote a chapter from the point of view of a supervillain. I was surprised when I kept picking pop anthems, like “Barbie Girl,” for my playlist, but I think it helped me understand something deeper about my character. I decided she might listen to songs that are sort of guilty pleasures that she might be embarrassed by if anyone else knew she listened to them. Without my playlist, I wouldn’t have learned that personality trait.
To establish a connection between the songs I’ve picked and the character, I ask myself questions like the following:
- Does this song say something about this character’s personality?
- If I were this character, when would I listen to this song?
- Is the song a source of comfort, or does it invigorate this character?
After answering these questions, here is the resulting playlist:
Even if I don’t always listen to the character’s playlist while writing, choosing the music they would like helps me understand them a little more.
Use Songs That Set the Scene
If you’re creating a whole new world or an intricate mystery, then it might help to have a playlist that makes you feel like you’re living in your project’s setting.
I’m currently writing a story about a heist, so I wanted it to have a moody, arrogant, smooth jazz feel to capture the spirit of certain scenes. First, I found music that made me feel like an anti-hero—songs like “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”—because most people pulling off heists don’t see themselves as the bad guy. They might know what they’re doing is wrong but they can justify their actions. Then I found music that mentioned needing or wanting money since it’s a heist.
Since my story is set in a world that’s sort of the Old West meets the ‘30s and ‘40s, I used music that felt older as well. Scratching records and big band trumpets reminded me of my story’s setting and help me get in the mood for a heist.
One of my favorite parts of a good heist story is the element of surprise, so I tried to find music that surprised or shocked me. The best example is “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy. The shift around 1:25 was pleasantly surprising the first time I heard it. Listening to that song helps me put that feeling to words and remember what I love about heists.
The mix of surprising lyrics and songs that feel like moody jazz makes this playlist the perfect companion to the story:
In the end, your writing playlist is totally up to you and is totally individualized. What matters most is that you can let the words flow and focus on your writing.
How do you build playlists for your characters or settings? Share your tips in the comments or on social media! For similar posts on using playlists to inspire your writing, check out the rest of our Hear to Write series.