Weekly Journal

How Music Can Help Your Writing

Kaila Krayewski

Wendy Stein

1st August 2018

The highest goal of music is to connect one’s soul to their Divine Nature, not entertainment. ~Pythagoras

Every writer has different sources of inspiration, is creative in their own way, and has varying needs for maintaining focus and productivity. That said, can music inspire creativity? Can it be a source of inspiration in writing? How can it be used? This article explores these answers and looks at some scientific studies on the subject.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines creativity as the ability to produce original and unusual ideas, or to make something new or imaginative. Now that it’s defined, how do we do this?  In his book, The Art of Thought, published in 1926, Graham Wallas outlined his theory of the four stages of the creative process explained below.

Four Stages Of The Creative Process

The first stage is preparation. In this stage, the writer, inventor, musician, painter, or whomever gathers information from a vast field of sources. The writer, for example, also gets himself into the creative mindset through a conscious and active process.

Stage two is known as the incubation phase. This is when the writer diverts conscious thought away from the creative problem. It can be done by taking a break, mind-wandering, or by focusing one’s attention on something else. Wallas suggests that the latter is a more productive solution so that the writer can have multiple projects in the works at once. Ideas come together in an unconscious manner in this stage. I have a friend who swears she gets her best writing done while swimming or even sleeping.

The third stage is illumination. This is the “aha” moment, when the culmination of one’s work becomes instantly clear. It could take seconds or days or more, and it may involve explorations into other trains of thought that do not lead to flashes of insight, yet may be building blocks in the process. In this stage, the solution can not be forced—it just appears, suddenly, from an unconscious to a conscious place.

The fourth or final stage is known as verification. This involves taking the information received in stages one and two, and with conscious effort and attention, the writer is able to work it into a usable form.


Lounge area at the content castle koh samui

Each phase of this process is deeply personal to the writer. Stage one: what does it take to get the writer in the mood to write? While some writers like silence, others find it maddening. Music is fine for some writers, while others find it distracting. Some writers prefer to be completely alone and uninterrupted, while others prefer a co-working space. There is no “one answer fits all”. Personally, I have a couple of tracks that I like to listen to in this stage, to get me in the mood to write.

Stage two and three in Wallas’s theories are a likely time to find inspiration in music. While the mind is being diverted from the task at hand, music could be the perfect recipe for leading the unconscious mind on a journey to the solution—although not always the case, it can be another tool in our writer’s toolbelt.

In the final stage, when the writer needs full attention and moves forth with conscious and deliberate effort, music could be employed to keep focused. If the writer has a particular song that puts them in “the zone,” this is the time for it. Or perhaps, just a driving beat will keep the momentum going.

Music With A Purpose

Some people swear by binaural beats, which are two bass notes played slightly differently through a left and right speakers, to stimulate one’s alpha, beta, theta, or delta waves in the brain. Other music is layered on top of it, to create more interest. The result is that it activates brain waves that are conducive to focus, creativity, or relaxation depending on the exact piece of music selected. There have been over 20 studies performed, proving the effectiveness of this type of music that affects a range of mental states.
In another study done on creativity and music, the results suggested that higher levels of divergent creativity are possible for those who perform a task while they listening to happy music (high on arousal and positive mood), compared to the control group who were tested in a silent environment. The study used Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Spring Movement, yet any piece of happy music is purported to do the trick. “While the exact reason for this creativity boost isn’t clear, the team suggest that happy music may help to enhance flexibility in thinking. It doesn’t cause people to invent new ideas, rather, it helps them to consider ideas that may not have occurred to them if they were performing a task in silence.”

Writers’ Feelings On Music

Some writers say they listen to music to get in the mood for writing or to prepare to write in a certain genre. Other authors prefer music without words, like classical, jazz, or electronic, with some preferring ambient or even white or pink noise. Conversely, author Vladimir Nabokov insisted on complete silence while he wrote. And Author George Eliot once expressed “It is always fatal to have music or poetry interrupted.”

Others, like author Gabriel García Márquez, listen to music while they are writing. In Heriberto Fiorillo’s documentary film, La Cueva Itinerante, Marquez said, “When I was writing One Hundred Years of Solitude …I wore out Beatles’ records, which I listened to in order to stimulate myself.” David Eggers, a big proponent of writing with music, publicised his preferred writers’ music list consisting of mostly Indie bands.

As you can see, attitudes differ when it comes to playing tunes while writing. Regardless of whether a writer uses music while they are writing, it turns out that many authors do cite inspiration that comes from it. Aldous Huxley sums up the importance of music in his Music at Night and Other Essays, with his words: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

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