Like any good worker who likes things to be “just so” at my desk, I go through a little ritual every time I sit down for a day of writing. One of the steps in my ritual is flipping on the music.
Some days the music helps my writing flow like sweet honey syrup. And other days it annoys the crap out of me. That got me to wondering if there was any definitive answer on the use of music for enhancing writing and creativity.
The big answer? No. There is no definitive answer.
Study results were a mixed bag. Some said yes to music for writing and creativity. Others said no. It all depends. On a lot of things. Instead of turning to studies for the variables, we can probably pinpoint them ourselves.
For starters, it depends what you’re working on. Writing projects that demand a lot of research and thought may be better off done in silence. When we need extreme focus, music can feel like it’s getting in the way.
This applies to any project or situation, whether we’re writing an intense article or maneuvering our cars. Ever notice how you can blissfully blast music while you’re zooming down the road – but immediately shut it off when you’re lost, squeezing through an overly jammed parking lot, or attempting to parallel park?
It’s tough to concentrate on not hitting the curb, cars or shopping carts around you with drummers drumming and pipers piping out of the car speakers.
The type of music you listen to is another factor. I can go from peppy and productive to ho-hum and harried in a heartbeat when I leave the full musical selection up to Spotify.
Every Monday I give Spotify a chance to do its best by tuning into the Discover Weekly option. Some weeks I’m over the moon, saving half the songs to my Work Background playlist. Other weeks I vow never to listen to music again.
Letting Alexa pick your tunes is even worse, unless you like hearing about something you left in your cart six years ago or all these new wonderful things you can try or buy from Amazon. Like the specials on cat litter when I don’t even have a cat.
Besides, I have yet to find an across-the-board no-lyrics option for either one of them. It’s best for me to stick with no lyrics when I’m writing. More than once I’ve drifted into a writing zone only to find I’d typed up half the words to “Peace Frog” as Jim Morrison droned on in the background.
When I’m working on my metal art, however, it’s a different story. The louder and wordier the song, the better. There’s something soothing about singing along to the sizzle of a plasma cutter as its whisking through metal at a balmy 45,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most any type of music is a great enhancer when I’m working on most spray paint, pen and ink, and clay projects. And it did wonders in the background while creating my all-time masterpiece: my soul mate dog attacking a demon painted on a black velvet canvas. Just looking at it makes me hear the angels sing.
While classical music is the go-to for many folks when they’re in creation mode, I can only take so much of it. And only certain types. Please keep the harps, high-pitched children’s choirs, and piano concertos out of earshot. Bring on the cellos, the kettle drums and anything by Igor Stravinsky.
One final factor that plays a part in the musical mix is our mood. When we’re flying high with an amazing project, it’s easy to flow along to music. When we wake up cranky with a pile of stuff we don’t want to touch, it may be difficult for even angels with harps to boost our spirits.
We’ll have to agree with the studies on this one. There is no definitive answer on whether or not music enhances or detracts from our writing and creativity. But we do know one thing is true. Life would be far less savory without music – even if we have to shut it off to parallel park.
Ryn Gargulinski is a writer, artist, Reiki master and speaker who wishes Alexa would stop telling her about sales on cat litter.