January 23 – 29: “What is your take on music for writing?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Some authors publish playlists of the music they listened to while writing, or that otherwise inspired their novel. This week we ask ITW Members Sarah K. Stephens, Angel Luis Colón, Linda Lee Kane and Patricia Smiley, what is your take on music for writing?


Patricia Smiley is the best-selling author of four mystery novels featuring amateur sleuth Tucker Sinclair. Pacific Homicide is the first of a new series about LAPD homicide detective Davie Richards and debuted on November 8, 2016. Patty’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Two of the Deadliest, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. She has taught writing at various conferences in the US and Canada. She served as Vice President for the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and as president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles.


Linda Lee Kane, MA in Education, PPS, School Psychologist, and Learning Disability Specialist, is the author of The Black Madonna, Witch Number is Which, Icelandia, Katterina Ballerina, Cowboy Jack and Buddy Save Santa, and Chilled to the Bones, 2017 release date, Clyde: Lost and Now Found, and Bottoms Up, A Daisy Murphy Mysteries. She lives with her husband and three dogs and six horses in California.



Angel Luis Colón is the author of The Fury of Blacky Jaguar,NO HAPPY ENDINGS, and the in-progress short story anthology Meat City on Fire (and Other Assorted Debacles). He’s an editor for the flash fiction site Shotgun Honey, has been nominated for the Derringer Award, and is published in multiple web and print pubs such as Thuglit, Literary Orphans, All Due Respect, The Life Sentence, RT Book Reviews, and The LA Review of Books. He’s also currently repped by Foundry Literary + Media. Keep up with him on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife.


Sarah K. Stephens is a developmental psychologist who teaches a variety of human development courses as a senior lecturer at Penn State University. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom, she remains a writer year-round. Her writing has appeared in LitHub, Critical Mass, Five on the Fifth, eFiction, (parenthetical), The Indianola Review, and the Manawaker Studio’s Flash Fiction Podcast. Her debut novel, A Flash of Red, was released in December 2016 by Pandamoon Publishing. Follow her on twitter @skstephenswrite or Facebook @sarahkstephensauthor and read more of her writing on SarahKStephens.com


  1. I do my best writing when I have a mostly ambient soundtrack to my thought processes. At the most, some mildly vivacious classical music might creep into my listening. Lately I’ve been writing almost entirely to Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. My first novel emerged while listening to Mozart’s Requiem over and over (maybe that’s why A Flash of Red trends a little darkly). If anything, I tend to find myself fixated on one artist or set of background songs when working on a project. The main rule for me is that writing music cannot have words that I understand—since the Requiem is in Latin, it fit in just perfectly for my philistine ears.

    For those looking for an incomparable ambient playlist, Stephen Thompson of NPR Music fame created one a few years ago that he was kind enough to share with his listeners. You can find it here: https://play.spotify.com/user/127054489 Enjoy!

  2. I believe whatever inspires an author to write is the way you should write. I have seen people in coffee shops, they love the noise, the interaction of people. I don’t do well under those conditions, I do however like to listen to music while writing than it needs to be Enya, Boccelli, and the classics.

  3. I don’t listen to music when I write. In fact, I function best in total silence. Having said that, perhaps I should give it a try. Stay tuned. I’ll report back. 🙂

  4. In ancient times, when “music” existed only on audiotape or vinyl, I would press play on a cassette and sit down to write. (Instrumental tracks only, no singing.) I knew the writing was going well when the music ran out, and I couldn’t be bothered to flip the tape over. I haven’t tried marrying the two activities – writing and listening to music – at any point in this century.

    1. Interesting, Andrew. I find that I start humming the words to the songs or flash back to a memory associated with the music. I’ll give it another shot.

  5. I’m with you, Patty. I need total silence. I can’t even deal with the sound of the fan whirring so in the summer months I’m usually drenched in sweat. It’s not pretty, this writing thing…

    1. Hah, Susan–that made me laugh. I have to admit the same thing happens to me sometimes, mainly because–like Andrew noted–I’m in the midst of a scene and unwilling to go the few feet to turn on the AC or open a window. There’s no vanity for writers when we are in the thick of it 🙂

  6. I tend to build entire playlists for longer projects. Sometimes the focus is a specific genre a character likes or maybe music that was popular in the specific region or time period I’m writing. It helps establish a mood and sometimes reminds me of little details like language tics or general social attitudes (as an example, a character really liking early ska would probably have some interesting political views).

    Other times, I just set my playlist to shuffle and let it play freely. Music helps me concentrate while silence or household noises easily distract me – or lead me towards procrastination via social media.

  7. I think music is very inspiring, also calming and soothing. I think is great that some authors listen to music for inspiration while writing and thinking on the next line.

  8. If I write to music it’s to instrumental. I get distracted when I understand the words. I have been known to write to Hawaiian music since I don’t know the language.

  9. I usta write to music with lyrics until I found myself writing the lyrics instead of what was in my head. Now I have instrumental mixes depending on whether I want to write fast–with no worry about getting the spelling right, just getting my thoughts out–or slow–reflective, contemplative. I’ve got Mannheim Steamroller, Vivaldi, Mozart, Jesse Cook, Ottmar Leibert, Lindsey Stirling, and many more on my playlists. ;o)

  10. My husband, who is primarily an actor, always plays music which he feels induces an appropriate mood, in accordance with what he’s writing. I’m primarily a musician (singer) and I find music too distracting to listen to while I’m writing. I’m used to really LISTENING to music, so I find it takes me out of my writing. Make of this what you will.

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