I listen to music while I write. Like most things concerning writing habits, this is far from a universal practice. I know some writers who need complete silence. I know others who can only write to music without words. Me, I have surprisingly little patience with classical music (I adore Chopin, but nearly everything else makes me twitchy), and silence is usually not an option. I need to get out of the house to write, which means the Tuscaloosa Starbucks (this is a one Starbucks town, which is weird, considering that in Evanston/Chicago there’s a Starbucks at least every three blocks). I’m surrounded by people, and I’ve found that I can’t tune out conversation very well. This isn’t always a bad thing, since covertly listening in on other people’s conversations can be fruitful, giving me story ideas at times, but more often snippets of dialogue and a taste of different speaking cadences. But when I’m trying to form my own words, it’s not helpful to have my attention drawn to the guy who’s describing how his plumbing business is riding out the economic downturn.
Another benefit of music, though, is the fact that it keeps the part of my brain that craves stimulation busy, making it easier for me to concentrate. When I was in high school, I used to do my homework with the radio on. My dad objected, but not so far as to forbid it, considering my grades demonstrated that it at least wasn’t hurting. I didn’t even consciously notice the music for stretches at a time, a phenomenon that still happens all the time: I just went through Ani diFranco’s Dilate without it catching my attention, and my player has moved on to Janis Joplin.
It helps greatly if I’m very familiar with whatever I’m listening to, of course. I love Pandora, for instance, but I’ve found that writing to it doesn’t really work all that well, since every time a song I haven’t heard before comes on, I’m pulled out of whatever mindset I’d achieved to either say “dude, cool song!” or “yeech, skipping that.” Much better suited to web browsing.
So yeah. Music works for some people, and not so much for others. How about you? Do you listen to music when you write? Why or why not? And what music works best for you?