Posted by: gillarbuthnott | July 31, 2011

Words and Music

I’ve blogged previously about writing by hand vs writing straight onto a computer (into a computer??) but something I didn’t mention about how I write is the importance of music. I don’t have a particular place where I write, though I’d love to make you think I sit at a beautiful and tidy desk thinking deep thoughts. I do have a desk, but it’s more of a clearing area for family business: bank statements, emails about holidays, lists of phone numbers… There isn’t often room to write there, so I’m much more likely to be slumped on the sofa in my sitting room. This means there may be one or more other family members in the room, in which case the TV will almost certainly be on.

Is this a problem when it comes to concentrating on my deathless prose? No it isn’t. I plug myself into my trusty iPod and all is well. I have in fact managed to carry on writing in a room that contained 10 teenage boys watching Borat; not a technique I would recommend, but it does give me a small warm glow to know that I and my iPod coped with – surely – the ultimate challenge.

And what sort of music do I listen to? It depends what I’m trying to write. Sometimes it doesn’t matter; all I want is background noise to drown out the real world. At other times though,  getting the music right is vital for getting the words right, and I sometimes play the same couple of albums over and over obsessively when I’m writing a novel and they seem to encapsulate the mood I want. Artists I’ve recently used in this way are Florence and the Machine, Evanescence, Coldplay, Sting and a choice few Dylan songs.

Only one of my novels has been written under the influence of classical music: Winterbringers was written almost exclusively to the accompaniment of  Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’ and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams. It couldn’t have been the book it was without that music. I’m working on a linked novel now, but it’s Evanescence and Coldplay who are guiding me through it at the moment. I’ll keep you posted!



  1. Hi, thanks for the post. I received an ipod for my birthday and am going to try this. When I’m in the car I always have the radio on, I have noticed how whole stories or themes work themselves out in my head. A good thinking place, I thought. Now I’m wondering if it’s the music that’s bringing the creativity and not the driving!

    • Let me know how it goes! I do a lot of plotting in the car, but only if my husband’s driving… I really don’t think I’d get much writing done without music. Good luck.

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