Music to Write By: authors share their playlists for summoning The Muse

Science and technology writer Steve Silberman asked ten of his favorite writers (science authors, poets, bloggers, NYT reporters) to share "their playlists of music that evokes the elusive Muse." The answers ranged from "silence, to Eno, to the Velvet Underground and the White Stripes."

Writers have their secrets and rituals for courting the fickle favor of the Muse. For some, it’s sitting in a certain chair at the right time of day — or getting out of familiar surroundings to type busily away in a café filled with people that might someday be readers. For others, it’s a brisk walk in the open air. Or it’s potions; woe to the poet who finally decides to undertake her epic sestina sequence only to discover that her cupboard is bare of aged Sumatra.

And for many writers, one way to evoke that elusive flow-state of inspiration is music.

Not, mind you, just any music. I love me some Elvis Costello, but trying to eke out an apt phrase while being throttled with the thesaurus of his post-coital tristesse would be impossible. A writer needs a soundtrack that arouses the desire for articulation while denying its consummation by anyone else’s genius.

Enjoy: Music to Write By. (Image: Bach, 'shooped by Dave Grossman)

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    1. They’re mostly science writers, Paul — from the New York Times, Discover, etc.  If you don’t keep up with science writing (or, for that matter, poetry), that would explain it.  These are not novelists. I tried.

  1. “Not, mind you, just any music. I love me some Elvis Costello, but trying to eke out an apt phrase while being throttled with the thesaurus of his post-coital tristesse would be impossible.”

    He must have had This Year’s Model blaring when he cranked out “the thesaurus of his post-coital tristesse”!

  2. Lately I’ve been using video game soundtracks to create a space of being ON TASK and having THINGS TO DO. Specifically, ones from shootemups; music for making your little spaceship dodge patterns of enemies and bullets seems to really work for cranking out another page of my graphic novel. Right now it’s just R-Type Delta and Radiant Silvergun; I need to go grab a few more.

    Writing, though? When I’m writing I seem to prefer silence.

  3. Darren Korb and Jesper Kyd come to mind.  Their music gives a wonderful sense of place and movement without lyrics.

  4. Bach would have totally been a chapman stick dude, or Warr Guitar. Monster organ master would not have pudgy pinkies.

  5. A few science fiction / fantasy authors mention their music playlists in their book credits.  Rachel Caine listens to a lot of Joe Bonamassa but also an extensive list of other people.  Seanan McGuire mentions Counting Crows and a number of filk singers.

    There’s some music I like that doesn’t work well at all for doing work.  Anything with lyrics tends to be distracting if I’m doing anything verbal, including programming.  Long jammy instrumentals like The Grateful Dead can be ok, but I’ll periodically notice that I’ve been out in space listening to the music rather than focusing on my reading or work.

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