• Music While You Read, Music While You Write

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 36 comments

    In this quick Yak Babies bonus episode, my personal pals and I discuss whether or not we listen to music while we read or while we write.

    I do not. At least, not if I’m reading or writing at home; I won’t put music on.

    But if I’m doing those activities in public, at a bar or coffee shop or what have you, I don’t mind the music. It doesn’t distract me. In fact, I think it adds to the experience; I imagine I’d struggle to write or read in a quiet, musicless bar. (Musicless. What a weird-lookin’ word.)

    I’ve tried listening to music at home, and it just doesn’t work. Why, then, does it help me when I’m in public? I dunno. It’s just woven into the experience, I suppose. It’s part of the ambiance.

    Your turn: Music while you read or while you write, yes or no? If no, why not? If yes, what kind? Headphones or not? And what purpose does it serve for you? Let us know in the comments.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for books for the Dallas Morning News, the Iowa ReviewElectric Literature, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a writing project you’d like help with or an idea to get off the ground, check out our coaching, editing, and publication services.




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    I do not listen to music while I write since I often like the quiet and just want to hear what is in my own thoughts. I do not want any distractions since I get enough of them living with a cat, two mice and a few two legged creatures here.

    That is my thought on this subject matter.
    I really appreciate when I can get some quiet since most of the day involves being with people and putting on the radio in the car. So, when it comes time to write, I welcome the peace and tranquility of NOTHINGNESS.

    Jen T

    I need total quiet to write, too. I thought I was an oddball because so many people seem to be able to write in public, but I usually can’t.

    Torria Stevens

    Your not an oddball Jen; you just know yourself when it comes to what you like or need.

    John Liebling

    Flow of creation. Brainstorming. Outlining. Creating plot and characterization to do so I need total quiet. Any voice interrupts. Voices are a bigger distraction compared to other sounds. Editing is a different animal, different part of the brain. For that classical instrumental music works best. And violin more so than piano. Mozart is better than Chopin or Bach. Jazz would also not work. Rock no words. Pop no words would also not be the same. Classical music from specific artists helps me to concentrate for longer periods of time.

    Torria Stevens

    Uh huh…I preferably find myself more focused in the quiet of things (whether outside in the park, or in the local library) when I read or write. Perhaps I believe people give me energy or vice versa. When I’m in the thick of things (publicly that is), I sometimes get annoyed when people want to talk. So, then it turns into a ‘people problem’ more so than a ‘music dilemma’ and when it’s a music dilemma, ‘it’s’ too loud or too jiggy. I’ve thought about writing more at home then I’ll listen to soothing music like the Bossa Nova or… Read more »


    I don’t listen to music at home because it takes me off course, but when I’m out I can’t control that environment so whatever happens I’m not responsible so I ignore it and write -unless it becomes too obvious and I need to change locations. A song inspires a new or old memory so it diverts your attention. How many of you heard a song on the radio or television and it made you think of an old flame. Oh my God, turn off the tunes at home while writing. That’s my pick.

    Barbara Mealer

    What is life without music? I have play lists for the current books I’m working on and use them when writing or editing. I don’t play the music loud, but I find it guides my writing at times and gives the feelings I want to have in the story. Then again, I’m one of those people who learned to work in a room with 4 children wanting your attention, at least one conversation going on in the background and a TV blaring. Also, I don’t find it difficult to work in a public environment. As you see from the above… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    Too quiet is just as distracting as too loud and maybe worse for someone like me. From the other comments, I see I’m that unusual person in how I could work in the middle of Victoria Station. Meanwhile, put me in a quiet room with no sound, I’d get very little done. For me, I need that background noise.

    Jerry Schwartz

    For me, it depends. If I’m reading for pleasure, whether fiction or non-fiction, music is practically a must. Classical is my drug of choice. An exception is vocal music. I just can’t do it. Gregorian chant and things like that don’t count, because the words don’t really sound like words and my brain doesn’t try to interpret them. I prefer speakers to headphones, generally. When the timpani go wild, or the organ uses its 32-foot pipes, I want to feel it. But since I’m married to a woman who is the exact opposite (she wants complete silence when she reads),… Read more »

    Carol B

    The general consensus here seems to be no music while writing, and I agree 100%, especially music with lyrics! It distracts me from finding my own words. The one exception to the no music rule might be a song that transports me back in time and places me in the setting of my stories. They are set during the Civil War and I always find it helpful to listen to The Lovers’ Waltz or Danny Boy (Eva Cassidy’s rendition in particular) when I need inspiration or just to put me into the right mood and place to write. I can’t… Read more »

    Carol B

    I went into iTunes and listened to your Johnny Cash version. Very touching. Eva Cassidy was dying also. In fact, she did her last performance and died that same night. Yes, ugh! But in an irresistibly melancholy sort of way.


    Thank you for a great idea. I have specific songs in my story during a funeral scene, and I never actually thought of playing them to set the mood. Mushy and sentimental as it is and some people criticize it, I love Danny Boy. I will look for the Eva Cassidy and Johnny Cash renditions. I like the good old traditional Frank Patterson.

    Geoff Singer

    Occasionally while tapping a drumstick with my right hand.

    Geoff Singer

    I write with music on. Sometimes with animal noises playing in the background.


    i even dance while paint to music of sources mostly reggae


    was an epigrammatic palindromic concentric stream of unconsciousness free “ass-ass-i-nation CIAshun” til my dad died I cried released ptsd trauma Irish cat-holic repressed lost quadrillions of neural synaptic connections genies in us but as well bad stored doom relating events all had to go in the great washout better early in girls than late in boys who hung out at next best wooed man literally ans figuratively

    Elissa Malcohn

    I generally don’t listen to music while I read. I might if I’m reading nonfiction, but not if I’m reading fiction and am immersed in the story. In fact, if I’m in a waiting room with music (or, worse, a TV), I put earplugs in. For writing, it depends. Sometimes I need silence, especially for nonfiction. Journaling is the exception; I almost always listen to music there. Sometimes I need silence for fiction, though at other times the music drives my writing, including specific music for individual characters and scenes (like Barbara, I’ve used a playlist). I stick mainly to… Read more »

    William C Seward

    I suffer from tinnitus anyway, so technically it is NEVER quiet when I’m doing anything! A million crickets singing and arguing interminably! Anyway, I often write to music, but my playlist is almost elevator music. Gregorian chant, classical, easy jazz, ambient, whatever, as long as there are no intelligible words. I’ve even been known to write to Mexican music at times. The words don’t distract, since I mostly don’t understand them anyway. I find film scores work well for writing also. I find the gregorian chants even help with a migraine, sometimes. I do sometimes play some 40’s jazz style… Read more »


    Oh hi, fellow tinnitus sufferer. I was listening to some choral music–not chants, but a chorus of monks singing something spiritual (I think it was something like Miserere Mei…I am butchering the title), but it actually helped with my tinnitus–it negated it for a while somehow. I also get migraines and I will now try Gregorian chant for that. I can imagine that working very well.

    Marie Hammerling

    I often listen to opera or classical music while I write. I write stories about musicians, so sometimes, I listen to music relevant to the story.


    I play historical documentaries about people who are interesting or inspire me, or about political events in the past. I eventually tune out the documentary and the writing is the main focus. I don’t really know why I do this. Maybe it’s sort of like adding weights to your workout–they make you work harder, so making it harder for me to focus makes me focus more. I think in part, also, it’s a way of easing the solitude. I am writing my own little world here, but the world outside goes on and has gone on and will go on.… Read more »

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