The Best Soundtracks for Writing

While I like writing to music, I hate writing to anything with lyrics. It doesn’t take me long to start singing and bopping along and then I forget all about what I’m actually supposed to be doing.

As a compromise I prefer film scores, because they create a perfect ambiance without dominating my attention.

From the languid, haunting melodies that define The Returned to the unforgettably thrilling 28 Days Later score, here are some of my favourite soundtracks to write to, broken down by genre. Hopefully you’ll find something that suits your own writing.

Literary: Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream is best known for the sweeping ‘Lux Aeterna’, which you’ve probably heard remixed on movie trailers for Lord of the Rings and The Da Vinci Code. But every track juxtaposes violent beats with a plaintive violin symphony, which is just perfect for a moody piece of literary fiction.

Historical: Atonement

I love the piano-centric refrains in this movie; they’re so nostalgic they draw you right into the past. This one’s great for your characters’ quieter introspective moments.

Dystopian: 28 Days Later

John Murphy’s brutal score establishes a sense of tension that isn’t easily forgotten. I could listen to ‘In the House, In a Heartbeat’ on repeat, it’s so palpably hopeless.

Action: The Matrix

This song is deceptively simple before it transitions into that aggressive electronica that The Matrix is known for. Just picture your kick-ass main character strutting along to this music. Can you see it? The repetition also helps, because it isn’t overwhelming when you’re trying to concentrate. Go to this playlist for the full score.

Adventure: Jurassic Park

For most of us, this soundtrack should be instantly familiar, but it blends quite fluidly into the background when you’re writing. And you have to admit that uplifting theme (you know the one – when they see the island for the first time) turns your heart to putty.

Western: Firefly

There are enough twangs and barn-raising banjos in this one to evoke the Wild West, but the piano and violin prevent it from being alienating to people who don’t enjoy that type of music.

Dark Fantasy: Game of Thrones            

If you’re keen to write something dark, depressing and full of torture, then you can’t go wrong with the Game of Thrones score. There are almost three hours of tense, sprawling instrumentals here.

Light Fantasy: Edward Scissorhands

The playful whimsy in this soundtrack would be great for writing a children’s book or fairytale.

Romance: Revolutionary Road

There’s something both painful and hopeful about the Revolutionary Road soundtrack. It’s evocative and romantic without being sappy, which brings to mind the equally stunning American Beauty soundtrack, also composed by Thomas Newman. You can listen to the full playlist here.

Sci-fi: Doctor Who

I’m sad to say I’ve never attended a Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Doctor Who spectacular, but it’s clear Murray Gold’s famous score is part of the show’s modern appeal. It certainly elevates the series to something filmic. Gold’s Torchwood soundtrack is just as lovely (in some parts it’s downright heartbreaking), though it’s slightly more techno laced.

Both should prompt your muse, whether you’re writing something in the science-fiction genre or not. If you’re not reduced to tears at least once during this two hour mix… well I’m not going to say you have no soul, but…

War: Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galatica is technically a sci-fi epic, but Bear McCreary’s score is so heavily influenced by military drums that I think it would be equally inspiring if you were writing about war or battle.

Horror: The Returned

Probably one of the best television soundtracks you’ll ever hear. Deeply atmospheric, it has been called “calmly unsettling” by its composers, a French band called Mogwai.

Crime: Sherlock

There’s a smug and somewhat old-fashioned flavour to this soundtrack that was inevitable, considering the source, but it’s also moody enough to provide a nice musical background to anything you might write about crime or mystery.

Have I missed something? What do you like listening to when you write?

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About Emily Tatti

Emily Tatti is a Melbourne based writer and editor. She is passionate about creating publishing opportunities for emerging writers.

20 responses to “The Best Soundtracks for Writing”

  1. Stef says :

    What a fantastic post! I really appreciate this list – now all I have to do is choose one to start listening to. Many thanks!

  2. Angela Nikulinsky says :

    Soundtrack to new film ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is also brilliant writing music.

  3. Kjelse Sonja Rittmeyer says :

    I do freelance article writing, and the Game of Thrones soundtrack on Spotify for Season 4 is gold. Seriously, it blends into the background but provides enough atmosphere and variance to keep me awake while writing in the middle of the night. Actually, it’s great to listen to for activities other than writing…like cleaning. And Oh, my heart! It sometimes pulls up emotive scenes from the series in my mind, although not often enough to be distracting.

  4. mariadavis925 says :

    Thanks for this list! I have the same problem that music is so distracting but I find I need the noise too 🙂

  5. Jock Crang says :

    Thanks for this. I love getting new albums to listen to while writing. I’m definitely going to have to get the Mogwai album you recommend, it sounds great. You might like the old Philip Glass soundtrack for “Powaqqatsi”, a bit different but great to get you moving. The other one you might like is Moondog, “The Viking of 6th Avenue” classical with native american beats mixed in, my all time fave writing music.

  6. natroman16 says :

    This is a really good compilation. I am extremely partial towards John Williams and Murray Gold’s work.

  7. saki444 says :

    Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s the best thing ever.

  8. James Pickell says :

    I just started listening to Cliff Martinez’s “Neon Demon” (awesome film too!) and the “Contagion” soundtrack. I highly recommend it, especially for screenwriting. Scenes were coming easily to me!

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