Curating a Writer’s Playlist

Writing is an activity that requires complete focus. However, with the temptations of television, social media, and cute animal videos lying around within your reach, what is the best way to keep your focus?

Contrary to popular belief, silence isn’t always golden. Multiple studies have found that the music you listen to may actually help your brain and the words flow. Here’s how you can get the most focus out of your playlist:

1. The Pump-Up Playlist

Just like exercising at the gym or going out for a run, it takes a while for anyone to get in the mood to write. To help you get started, it’s best to depart from your go-to songs for when you need that extra boost of adrenaline in your veins. Conversely, a good pick-me-up might also get you through the final pages of your paper. Try “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, and “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. Don’t be afraid to get caught dancing to the music!

2. Going Lyric-Less

According to some research, it’s not the volume or the general noise that causes you to lose productivity when listening to music or sounds in general; it’s the speech. The brain has difficulty comprehending the song lyrics. Moreover, certain music may distract you and cause you to sing along. Therefore, instead of your usual road trip playlist, opt for classical, jazz, or other instrumental music.

3. Classical Music Is the Classic Solution

Multiple studies have found that listening to classical music helps block distractions and organize brain information. The only downside with classical music is that it can lull you to sleep as well. To avoid this, diversify your playlist to include more than one composer. Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Bach, and Chopin all have great selections.

4. Matching Emotions to Your Playlist

If you’re writing a novel, or any story, it could help to match your music with the scene. Create different playlists that correspond to varying emotions: melancholy, anger, disappointment, elation, and so on. The music could evoke similar emotions to the writer, which, in turn, could bleed into a scene being written. Plenty of show tunes or songs from musicals contain heavy emotion that could be of great help.

5. White Noise and Ambient Sounds

Studies show that natural sounds could actually boost moods and focus, including muffled conversations, falling rain, soft shuffling noises, and the like. Some may prefer to go au naturel and just rely on their environment for auditory motivation. However, not everyone has the luxury of working in a suitable environment for writing. Luckily, there are apps and websites that allow you to mix and match different natural sounds for the right mood.

6. Movie and Video Game Score

Have you ever found yourself laser-focused while watching a movie or playing a video game? The background music is part of the reason you are. Movie and game scores stimulate certain moods, which could influence your focus and affect your emotions.

7. Music in a Foreign Language

If you aren’t the type to listen to scores and instrumentals but are still wary of the distraction and inevitable sing-along brought by normal songs, try listening to foreign songs. They aren’t exactly lyric-less, thus, it’s less likely that the music will put you to sleep. Since you don’t know what the lyrics mean, your brain doesn’t have to focus on what the song is saying. It’s the best of both worlds! Be wary of K-pop music, though; some of them can be really catchy.

8. Science-Approved Tunes

Some specific songs and compositions actually have the research to support their ability to make you focus. For example, Mozart and classical music from the Baroque era is proven to improve focus and information retention as is other music with a 60 bpm tempo. Brian Eno, one of the leading composers of ambient music, creates tracks designed to lessen anxiety and reduce tension, definitely something that could increase your focus. “Shempi” by Ratatat is a rock track that evokes high energy without the distracting lyrics, perfect for that last stretch.