Dropping the Beat: Why I Won’t Let Anyone Tell Me Not to Listen to Music When I Write
by Marissa Stanko
Trying to find your identity as a writer is nerve-wracking. There’s pressure on all sides to do certain things or be a certain way or write at certain times and so on and so on. It took me a long time to feel like I was a writer, and even now I struggle with feeling like I don’t write “the right way.” One of the things I always felt forced to justify as a writer, even to myself, is that I like to listen to music while I write, and it isn’t instrumental. Studies, blog posts, and articles galore tell me that I shouldn’t listen to music while I write, or that if I do, it should be classical, instrumental, or a playlist designed to fit the piece I’m working on. Lyrics distract from writing, they say. Music puts your focus somewhere else. And I know for many people, that must be true.
As with any statistic, I seem to be an outlier in the claims that playing music reduces your focus. For whatever reason, be it growing up in a chaotic house with four siblings or our open floor plan or my mental health issues, I can’t work in complete silence and I am almost guaranteed to lose my focus if I don’t have music on. The music, especially if it’s coming through headphones, becomes my sole distraction and blocks out other background noises, ironically allowing me to focus on my work better than if I wasn’t listening to anything. There are exceptions to every rule, and I’m not the only writer in this world who tunes into tunes while writing. Bloggers on Stop the Breaks talk about how music can become associated with writing and can help make sure your focus stays on writing in the middle of other distractions, and Reddit has a thread on the subject where people describe their different relationships with music and writing.
I don’t listen to new music while I am writing. That would defeat the purpose because I would be paying attention to the lyrics and deciding if I liked the songs. But instrumentals and classicals put me to sleep. As long as I know the music, it doesn’t matter what language it's in or what genre. I always have music on. At work, at home, in the car, at a friend’s house, always. Still, I have no hard and fast rules, and usually when I’m writing from inspiration rather than planned writing, I don’t take the time to turn on music; I just let my words flow. It’s also common for me to switch between music genres, so writing-specific playlists are out the window. Otherwise my writing playlist would be a very weird mix of reggaeton, rap, pop, classic rock, eighties, Japanese alt rock, symphonic death metal, anime soundtracks, and whatever my newest fixation is.
For me, creating my own writing habits is a rebellion, a declaration of my independence. In my life, I do everything I’m supposed to do. I’m the responsible older sister, the straight-A student, the first-generation college attendee with a five-year plan and a savings CD, the leader who always has her fingers in ten or so different pies. Now say I was to become a published author with a book deal. That means someone now controls the timeline of my book, the marketing, the content to an extent. But they can’t control how or when or where or why I choose to write--I do.
"For me, creating my own writing habits is a rebellion, a declaration of my independence."
There are so many things in our lives that we can’t control, and so many instances where we are expected to conform to someone else’s decisions. No one is encouraging me to listen to the Lucky Star opening on repeat while I write a chapter draft. I can choose to do that. No one else is writing my work for me, and no one else can decide my writing process for me. I don’t want to be told by someone else what works for me when I know it doesn’t. I don’t want someone else’s recommendations to influence my writing routine. Why is it so difficult for people to accept that we are not all the same? What works for me may not work for you, and that is as true to writing as any other aspect of life.
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