On Writing: The Best Writing Playlist of Great Writing Music

The best writing music playlist

What a writer listens to as they write is a very personal choice. Some need pure, solidly still silence. Others prefer the dull but loud background bustle of a coffee shop. Some listen to atmospheric soundtracks - rainfall, white noise, jungle noises, waves crashing on a beach (if this is you check out these suggestions. When it comes to music to write to, some writers swear by long instrumental pieces of music, while others will have a trusted playlist of songs, bands and artists they turn to again and again. I am one of the latter people. Over the years (nearly seven as a full-time writer of many sorts!) I have created my best writing playlist which runs for over eleven hours. The music does vary from lightly up-tempo through to downright melancholy (or borderline miserable), but I would describe all of the songs on there as "gentle", which is what I like my writing music to be.

I wanted to share my writing playlist with you today because I've been talking a lot recently to fellow writers about what they listen to, what does and doesn't work, and why they should start crafting a playlist from scratch. I'm not precious about my writing playlist and am happy to share it on the off-chance that it will help somebody else to write a little easier today or tomorrow.

I still add songs to this playlist so do keep checking back in. I'm not sure if Spotify has a limit to how long a playlist can be but considering I possibly spend 20+ hours a week writing ( and if I'm lucky a couple of those are for my own projects!) then just over 11 hours doesn't really seem very much.

Anyway, here's the best writing music playlist you'll ever listen to... possibly?

The writing playlists that are a bit more personal to me are those that I create for each book. There not that personal as you can actually find them on my Spotify account (search "frankiebird") but I'm probably not going to share a link to any of them here. You can also find a playlist for the book I'm currently (and maybe will always be!) writing. However, if you do want to read Shy Feet, I highly recommend listening to the playlist that accompanies it and yes, some of the songs on the list are those that I listened to when writing the book.

The best music to write to

Personally, the best music for writing is something that doesn't interrupt my thoughts, but rather accompanies them or maybe even leads them. That's where the gentle part comes in. The song or music I listen to can't dominate my mind and will often be required to disappear from it completely - almost as though I'm manually turning the volume down - but just as often I need the music I listen to to soothe me, inspire me, love me.

The other thing I would say about choosing the best music for writing is to avoid anything that is too poignant or significant, i.e. songs that hold particular meaning or memories for you. This can be distracting and shift your mood suddenly when you need it to actually stay in a certain frame of mind for writing what you're writing. More neutral songs allow your mood to stay or change according to whatever you're working on. 

I'd like to list a couple of artists and specific albums that I regularly return to when writing, and I've explained why I listen to this music while I write, and why you might too. (Links are to their albums on Amazon and iTunes, and yes, includes affiliate links so I will make a (very, very!) small commission on any songs bought or downloaded. You can (as of June 2018) find all of these bands on Spotify too.

Anthony Hamilton - Ain't Nobody Worrying (album)

If you held a gun to my head and forced me to name my favourite genre of music I would say soul music. If you put another gun to the other side of my head and told me to be more specific then I would say neo-soul, and this is one fine neo-soul album. Some of the songs on this album are almost too good to be on this list as they make me stop writing and just listen, but the experience of listening to the whole thing is so encompassing it's perfect listening for when I want to escape reality for a little while which is what I guess I'm always trying to do when I write fiction. (iTunes / Amazon)

Asgeir - In the Silence (album)

Before we go any further I have to say that I actually prefer the original Icelandic version of this album, even though I don't understand a single flipping unpronounceable word. I listened to it as I travelled around Southern Iceland in 2013 and the songs have haunted me ever since. They're perfect for writing scenes in which something a bit weird and wonderful are about to happen. The English version is lovely to understand a little of the sentiment and poetry behind the songs (Asgeir's poet father wrote the original Icelandic lyrics) and I will never bore of some of the rifts and tunes this album contains. It used to actually be quite hard to get a copy of the album in Icelandic (unless you're in Iceland) but I did find it is included in this Deluxe Edition. (iTunes / Amazon)

Bahamas

I'm in love with Bahamas' first two albums, and I'm slowly opening up to the idea of falling for his third. This Canadian musician combines blues, soul, country and folk to create songs that are short, sweet and memorable - kinda like I hope my short stories are. (iTunes / Amazon)

Beach House

I could listen to Beach House without end. I love the slightly adrogynous-sounding voice and the electronic influenced but slow paced music it accompanies. My favourite albums are Bloom and Teen Dream. (iTunes / Amazon)

Belle and Sebastian

Glasgow's finest twee pop outlet make songs that compel me to laugh, smile and write, sometimes deliciously at the same time. (iTunes / Amazon)

James Blake

While some of his more experimental electronica music can be a little jarring so not ideal for writing, there is something about Blake's genre challenging tunes and rhythms that sends me in a trance. His cover of A Case of You will always make me stop in my tracks and sing along which as I mention above is not ideal, but it does also remind me of the beautiful poetry of Joni Mitchell, which is motivating and inspiring enough to get back to writing immediately. (iTunes / Amazon)

Leon Bridges

I feel like Leon Bridges has single-handedly picked up where the original soul of the 1960s left off. His voice is mesmerising and soothing in equal measures and only too easily accompanied by gospel-style backing singers. He is not to be ignored if you thought they didn't make them like they used to... because Leon Bridges does. (iTunes / Amazon)

Camera Obscura

The other reason I want to visit Glasgow, Camera Obscura handle more heartbreak and melancholy than their fellow Glaswegian twee pop artists Belle and Sebastian but still throw in a 1960s inspired swing or a classic country melody here and there to get me dancing... or writing. (iTunes / Amazon)

D'Angelo

I actually say prayers that this man will never stop making music. His two solo albums are flawless (to me) and are ultimate examples of modern R&B and soul music. If you are yet to discover D'Angelo and you're about to for the first time... you're welcome. (iTunes / Amazon)

Feist

I get lost in Feist's Metals and The Reminder albums. Luckily I can take my words with me. There's just something so simple about her music, you almost overlook the lyrics which are too poetic for me to really get away with that. (iTunes / Amazon)

First Aid Kit

These Swedish sisters are witch-like in the way they help me focus on my writing. A few of their songs are so good I sometimes have to stop what I'm doing and several are so familiar and loved now that I sing along without stopping writing (which is probably why words from their lyrics have been known to squeeze their way into my manuscripts...). If you love folk, country and the occasional bit of soulful rock, listen to First Aid Kit. (iTunes / Amazon)

Kindness

Kindness (aka Adam Bainbridge) names Arthur Russell among his influences and that's what first enticed me about his music but his slow-paced, soulful version of disco also draws a little on the blues and unapologetically classic pop synths. (iTunes / Amazon)

Kings of Convenience

All hail Erlend Oye and all the music he makes! While I love his solo stuff and the music he creates with The Whitest Boy Alive, I am borderline obsessed with the songs Kings of Convenience create. I'd describe it (terribly) as guitar-based folky pop but there are also tunes with beautiful piano and even strings too. Erlend's voice is not for everyone and if it's not for you, you'll soon know it, but for me he gets me writing, smiling and writing and smiling and repeat without fail. (iTunes / Amazon)

Michael Kiwanuka

Born with blues, gospel and soul in his blood (at least that's what it sounds like), I was lucky enough to see Michael Kiwanuka perform at a festival in London before he was selling albums worldwide and he sounded just as slick, just as original and just as enchanting then as he does now. (iTunes / Amazon)

James Vincent McMorrow

McMorrow's first album is classic guitar- and piano-led folk inspired indie music - think Ben Howard or Matthew and the Atlas - and his lyrics betray a storyteller ("We don't eat until your father's at the table..."), but then his second album is more than a little nod to neo-soul and R&B, and even a little 80s synth pop. WHICH I LOVE. So yes, two winning albums to write to and I look forward to exploring his third a bit more in coming months. However, if male falsetto voices don't do it for you then skip right along to the next. (iTunes / Amazon)

The National - Trouble Will Find Me (album)

Admittedly I have to be in the right mood to go on a The National binge (or writing my dark gritty suspense/crime series set in London) but The National's Trouble Will Find Me definitely helps me tap into big emotions and feelings and sometimes plot-hole-solving ideas! (iTunes / Amazon)

Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal (album)

The second Icelandic outfit on this list, this album also accompanied my travels around Iceland and then stayed with me forever after it seems. A little bit twee but with a big band feel at times as you can't possibly count the instruments you hear at times, this album is polished and raw all at the same time. Songs are uplifting or healing, a combination I often need when writing. (iTunes / Amazon)

The Paper Kites

When I saw Aussie folk outfit The Paper Kites finally released an album I made audible happy noises as I'd listened to their Woodland EP to death, except that's not strictly true as I still keep listening to it. Folksy, melodic, nearly always in a minor key, these songs make me think which is pretty much essential for any writing session! (iTunes / Amazon)

Rhye

If I had to choose one band to listen to more than any other on this list, I would find myself strongly leaning towards Rhye. This duo create songs so gently impactful that I find myself lost in a rabbit hole looking up all their other music every single time I return to it. One half of the duo is responsible for the vocals - a chap (yes, really, you'll know what I mean when you start to listen to it!) called Milosh - and I adore his music too. (iTunes / Amazon)

The Temper Trap - Conditions (album)

I listened to this album on repeat as I worked on the edits for my short story collection Shy Feet and I return to it again and again when editing or even drafting. The first few songs lull me into a sense of dream-like mystery as soaring vocals and synths tell me stories, only for a few of the edgier tracks to wake me up again... All that being said, I nearly always have to skip the final song (Drum Song) because... well, just nope. (iTunes / Amazon)

And finally, if you have any good suggestions for the music you love listening to when writing, I'd love to hear them. Alternatively, if you like to listen to something else - white noise? rain soundtracks? - let me know, I'm always interested in the environments and things we do that help us write.

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Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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