Writing to Music: Immersion and Concentration


The track provided above is something of a gem of a find for me, found entirely through my social networks and sharing (Google+ demonstrates its worth mere days into full swing!).  Whilst I’ve not seen the film — I have heard of it, however — after listening to this track, and realising the artist is also responsible for “Requiem for a Dream” (I honestly forget its origins, save for use in about a thousand Lord of the Rings trailers, both on the internet (fan-made) and in official use, and I’m uncertain as to whether or not it actually featured in the films, though I expect not), I decided to look into the whole soundtrack for the film (The Fountain). I was not disappointed.

The whole soundtrack is excellent: not an all-purpose writing soundtrack, by any means, as the tracks are much in the same vein as this one, however it is still an emotive collection of tracks that can lend itself to a variety of themes, scenes or moods. It’s always good to have multi-purpose music, as you find as a writer, that from time to time a track can equally fit Situation A, as well as it fits Situation B. The handy thing is having adaptable music. Why, though?

Over time, as you hammer away at the keyboard, toiling away, whatever music you choose can become part of the background: the music is heard, but not entirely listened to. When this happens with tracks suited to the themes and scenes of a novel, the music becomes familiar and you become “comfortable” with the music that you will essentially, potentially, spend a good number of hours listening to in the background whilst you work. Some tracks are perfect for the idea of scenes, but if the music itself is too invasive, if it doesn’t sit neatly in the background, filtering into your senses, then it can pose problems for writerly immersion — and worse, concentration.

If you cannot concentrate to a track, no matter how perfect it might be, it will render itself useless by defeating the object. Occasionally there are instances where this can work, and usually this relates to battle scenes, or scenes of heightened tension that require the writer to be far more “on edge” whilst writing. These are usually the scenes that progress at snail-pace, a handful of words at a time — usually edited at time of writing — grinding out words on the page until finally the goal is reached. The lack of total immersion can be helpful here.

Usually I find that rather than boasting a massive, varied track-list, I prefer my iTunes “writing” playlist to consist of a few excellent tracks. Depending on the project, these are usually soundtrack pieces, or, if vocals are present, the language is not English. For example, a medieval folk band called Faun provides a good and constant stream of “in-keeping” music that slowly fades into the background as I write: there are vocals, but the language varies from Gaelic to Gaulish, and thus despite the “voices” throughout, the immersion is not lost and concentration is not broken. Quite the contrary, I normally don’t realise when the track changes, as my concentration is focused entirely on my writing, and not needlessly on the music.

Aside from the obvious choices of medieval folk, or medieval instrumental music, film scores such as The Lord of the Rings naturally come to mind. However, despite the grandeur of the music in the films, I find it non-conducive to keeping focus having these in the background. Instead, I fall back comfortably on video-game soundtracks. Although limited in their usefulness, the Halo OSTs deserve a mention, entirely thanks to the variety offered. It takes time to accustom yourself to the sheer bulk available through all three games, however, some tracks are well worth in.

But I mainly want to shout about the Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age: II soundtracks — especially the latter. From Origins to DA:II, it wasn’t just the plot that improved, but the music score too. The result is a beautiful soundtrack to a seamless game, perfect for sticking on repeat and immersing yourself in your writing. In fact, the DA:II soundtrack is brilliant beyond words, and is well worth a listen if you can’t quite manage to work to your usual musical favourites.

I’m hoping to periodically update soundtrack and music suggestions for writing, mainly to share what other gems might be out there, merely awaiting discovery. This week’s little diamond is definitely The Fountain soundtrack.

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6 thoughts on “Writing to Music: Immersion and Concentration

  1. I’ve always found music to be a distraction, although I think I may listen to something like this (you are right, it is excellent – although I can’t say I recognise it) before I sit down to write. One of my faves is ‘In the house, in a heartbeat’ by John Murphy from 28 Days Later. It has that same build of tension that can be either ignored or studied.

    Thanks for a great article 🙂

  2. Pingback: Music and Writing: Part Two «

  3. The soundtrack to ‘Perfume: Story of a Murderer’ is a great one to have on in the background. Haunting, beautiful, moving… Definitely one to inspire those high-emotion scenes! The soundtrack to ‘The Virgin Queen’ TV series is also great, for a more Medieval sound. And if you’re working on an SF story, then Cousin Silas’s Ballard-inspired soundtracks are perfect, melding into the background but providing great atmosphere. And his ‘Geographics’ tracks are also great for if you’re writing fantasy… You can get download them all for free from his website, here: http://cousinsilas.blogspot.com/p/discography_18.html

    I’m going to check out ‘The Fountain’ soundtrack now. I’ve seen the film but can’t remember the music…

    • No worries about it being an old post! 🙂 I’ve seen “Perfume” but don’t especially remember the soundtrack, but it was a long time ago by now! I’ll definitely check out your recommendations, thank you.

      • My pleasure! Thinking about this actually made me revisit Cousin Silas’s website, and I found many more albums of his which are also great for listening to whilst writing 🙂

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