There are two things I love in life– music, and writing. I love some other things, but those are irrelevant right now.
I’ve always felt what I would call a ‘lover’s quarrel’ in putting the two together though. Kind of opposite to loving, let’s say– wine and cheese because those are two very different substances and they actually go very well together.
Better analogy: Singing and dancing go well together– if you’re talented. They require different parts of the brain and body. Music and writing require different parts of the body too, but I would argue that they share the brain and maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with listening to music and writing.
I feel that I am both alone, and not alone on this topic.
According to an article by Mary Lee MacDonald, there is a lot of research on the topic and it includes a multitude of varying factors. One study done in 2001 by researchers S.E. Ransdell and L. Gilroy, found that “Background music significantly disrupted writing fluency.”
Another study in 2016 by Kristian Johnsen Haaberg found that students used music “as a tool during study situations to increase well-being and motivation, to isolate themselves in a personal ‘bubble’, and to avoid other temptations and feelings such as hunger or boredom.”
MacDonald’s article goes on to further explain variations such as the genre of music and volume. Then she conquers the question– does music help or hurt? In her case, she was able to find that at one point, a certain soundtrack did help her revisit a feeling or state of mind and helped to complete her prize-winning chapbook, The Rug Bazaar.
After this, she references an interview with Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita and Pale Fire, who was asked about writing and music. He said his ideal writing arrangement was “an absolutely soundproofed flat in New York, on a top floor—no feet walking above, no soft music anywhere.”
By the end of her article, she sides with silence: “I’m with him. To write from that true, deep place, we must coax ourselves into a state of deep meditation. We must make friends with silence.”
Then you have people like Stephen King who apparently jam out to metal music while writing, but let’s be honest-– at this point, after all the books he’s written, his brain is just a production factory of words that’s probably running on auto-pilot. But hey, whatever works, you know?
To pull my thoughts together– I think music can be helpful to writers when needing inspiration or brainstorming, or as MacDonald used it- to revisit a feeling or state of mind. But all-in-all, with whatever type of writing that you’re doing, creative or academic, I believe you will be much more focused, clear-minded and productive in silence.