The Musical Muse

Spilled Ink Issue 78 Jul, 2010

Do you listen to music while you write? I do, but no lyrics please: too dis tracting. Some  music serves as a source of inspiration, my muse. If the music is light and inspiring, my writing tends to flow. If it is dull and ponderous, I turn it off. No sense writing dull, ponderous prose. And, while writing poetry no music is the best music to my ears, for poetry requires concentration and I can best hear my innermost muse in silence

Writers Digest, an American writers’ magazine that calls its Internet site the ‘The online guide to the writing life’, recently asked the following question on its discussion forum (at
“When it’s time to sit and write, do you listen to music?  If you do, what kind of music do you listen to, ...and why?”

The results were all over the page, some quite intriguing and insightful. First, let’s dismiss the guy who just said “No.” His opposite was not very
helpful either: “Silence drives me nuts...”
Here are some of the more interesting responses.

I do indeed. What I listen to depends on a number of factors. My mood plays a role, as does what I’m writing at the time. If I’m writing, say, sci-fi, I listen to the Star Wars soundtracks. For other kinds of
fiction, I tend to side with classical music. But, when all else fails, I turn to tried and true rock and roll. Classic rock, mostly...
When I’m writing a first draft, I almost never listen to music. I’m too busy listening to my head. When I’m editing, yes, I do listen to music most of the time because I need something to keep me in the room...

I usually have music on in the background.  My mind tends to wander if I don’t.  What’s playing depends on the mood I’m in.
I get my best ideas when I’m listening to music.
Music has evoked stories, new worlds for me to write about...
When I’m concentrating on writing or
editing I prefer soft, semi-rhythmic wallpaper music...something that doesn’t distract me, yet coats the quiet of my writing space with some kind of creative quality.

When I write, music is always my
[I] Always have music playing and always rock.
My own feelings are best reflected in this observation:
“Yes, music provides me with inspiration, remembrance and direction. Though at times, I do find the need for pure silence—to recharge, rethink and rewrite.”

While writing this essay I listened on Internet radio’s (iTunes) to the music of Antonio Vivaldi, a Baroque period (17-18th century) classical musician. Baroque music is good to write by (for me) because it expresses something of the fundamental order of the universe.

The accompanying illustration entitled ‘Nipper the Dog’ was painted in 1896 by the English artist Francis Barraud. For most of the 20th century it was the trademark label on old fashioned records of the Gramophone, RCA and RCA Victor brands. It is said that Nipper is listening to ‘His Master’s Voice’, or is it Nipper’s own muse that he hears from the bell of that old phonograph?
High quality music, and prose, have come a long ways since those days.
Good Writing!

Don Messerschmidt can be contacted at