Creating Playlists for Your Writing

Monday, January 16, 2017
Photo courtesy of

I’ve recently gotten back into running. It’s something I revisit every several years, starting from my stint on the high school cross country team to my desire to get back into shape after having two kids, which included training for a half marathon. One of the things I enjoy about running (or in my case right now, jogging) is putting together a running playlist I can listen to while pounding the pavement. I use an app now called Runkeeper that keeps track of my pace and mileage and let me select which playlist I want to use during a workout.

What’s even more fun is that the app keeps track of what pace I was running at for any given song. For example, on a recent 3-mile run, I clocked a 9:36/mile pace during the song “1985” by the group Bowling for Soup. The song “The Pretender” by Jackson Browne, which has always been one of my favorites, seemed to slow me way down at a 10:57/mile pace. I think part of the reason for that is that the song always reminds me of that movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” with Richard Dreyfuss, and makes me now want to weep every time I hear it. I’ve decided I probably need to be little more selective when it comes to my running playlists.

I also like to create writing playlists. I’ve created one for each of my works-in-progress. When I was writing a YA novel for NaNoWriMo (with a stalker character) a few years ago, the playlist consisted of songs by Sia, Taylor Swift, The Script, Sara Bareilles, One Republic, Brett Dennen, One Direction, and others. Another one, that had themes of teen suicide and domestic violence, had songs like “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead, “My Immortal” by Evanescence, “Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Fix You” by Coldplay.

For me, listening to these curated playlists helps me visualize certain characters and specific scenes, the setting, the mood, and helps me combine two different loves, if I’m to be completely honest. I know I’m not the only writer who does this. Author Ariel Lawhon has a whole section on the She Reads blog titled “Author Playlist,” where different authors discussed playlists for their books. Joshilyn Jackson handpicked songs for each of her individual characters, which was a neat idea. The music service Spotify has playlists designed specifically for writers, too.

Now, if there were only an app that could calculate how many words per minute we type (or write longhand!) while listening to certain songs . . . Any techies out there willing to tackle that?

Do you create playlists for your writing projects? If so, I’d love to hear your experience.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who always manages to slip a little Tori Amos into her writing playlists.


Margo Dill said...

I think I am in the minority in that I can't really listen to music with words while I write. I like quiet or coffee shop noise. It is interesting how we are all so different. I can see how songs would put you in a certain mood though. . .

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I am like Margo. I can only listen to instrumental music when I'm writing. Music with vocals gets me sidetracked and in a couple of bars, I've stopped writing and I'm only listening.

However, I can watch/listen to TV while I write. I wonder why?

Your photo is lovely (you always look sensational in your pictures), and I love the idea of making a playlist for characters. Thanks for the post.

(And Brett Dennen! One of my all-time favorite songs is his "Make You Crazy." I lovelovelove it.)

Mary Horner said...

Renee - I am also like Margo, but sometimes a song will put me in touch with a certain emotion so that I start writing. Does that count?

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