Yesterday in an online writing group, one sci-fi author wrote, “I am writing a chapter where the protagonist is (finally) leading a mutiny against her spaceship Captain. I need a playlist to write to. Taking all song suggestions!”

I threw a half dozen youtube videos at him and then decided that it might be worthwhile to compile a longer, more complete list of favorite tracks and explain how they assist me. So here you go.

*This article was cross-posted from the Mad Tab Blog*

I believe that essential to creative writing is the ability to shift and re-focus one’s normal state of consciousness — embracing the altered state. Thus, when I’m going to seriously write for a number of hours chances are it’ll be aided by some combination of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, exercise, and yes, specific songs. The objective of these varied methods is to prevent the mind from growing distracted and wandering to non-writing subjects. Music of numerous genres can contribute toward this shifted consciousness effect. Thus, I have chosen 25 tracks from throughout history and genres — from the Baroque era on through classic rock of the ’60s and ’70s, heavy metal and rap from the ’90s, and onto this century’s often more electronic pop songs.

I hope you find at least some of these tracks both useful and entertaining.

1. Just about anything by Bach can help inspire your writing. I love the Baroque era.

2. Vivaldi was another wonderful Baroque composer.

3 and 4. While I generally prefer the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, when it comes to kick ass, high energy tracks the Stones may have an edge.

5. While I’m trying to keep this list in rough chronological order, this track from a 2001 solo Mick Jagger album, Goddess in the Doorway, is getting placed among Stones tracks. “God Gave Me Everything” has been one of my absolute favorite, mantra-like tracks for about five years now.

6 and 7. Two of the 1970s’ most legendary guitar tracks — “Free Bird” and “Stairway to Heaven” — are archetypal rock songs for inspiring writing.

Check out the ending of Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, perhaps the best cinematic use of “Free Bird” ever (warning: ultra violence…):

8. “Heroes” is probably my favorite David Bowie song. It can inspire heroism in both you and your characters.

9. I felt remiss not initially including a song from the ’80s, so this Depeche Mode track from 1987 seemed a good fit.

10. There’s a lot of Tupac songs to sort through to find the gems. Here’s one of them, “Only God Can Judge Me” from All Eyez on Me:

11. Writing Tip: when you’re writing about evil characters, put on some evil heavy metal. And who can deliver better than ’90s-era Marilyn Manson?

12. “Around the World” is a tremendously catchy track from Daft Punk that’s endlessly listenable with its great beat:

13. Is it odd that I’m recommending both a Marilyn Manson song and a cut from The Prince of Egypt? I think it fits, after all, what do you think the Israelites were fleeing?

14. This track by MGMT inspires listeners to pursue their dreams and ambitions, rather than just giving in to a 9-5 job one hates. It was among my favorites back in 2008-2009 when it was released and remains so today.

15. Among the energies songs can fuel to enhance writing: sex. And this song by Lana Del Rey hits the spot. (Warning: NSFW.)

16. Another electronic track, this one utilized in the movie Hanna when the young, genetically-enhanced protagonist must flee her captors.

17. I’m not much of a Nine Inch Nails fan, but Trent Reznor’s been around long enough that sometimes he can hit the mark with a song that’s both catchy and energizing while also true to NIN’s depressed teenager aesthetic. I appreciate the sentiment of this song: the time comes when it is necessary to bite back at those “feeding” you.

18. My favorite Smashing Pumpkins album and favorite track from it, “Quasar” is a song steeped in mystical and occult symbolism. Check out this blog post from 2013 by my buddy Chris Queen, unpacking the Judeo-Christian themes of the track and the album.

19. The Moth & The Flame are a hip Los Angeles-based band with a cool sound. My favorite cut from their debut:

20. Modest Mouse’s mantra from 2004 both energizes and relaxes with the idea that we can float above and transcend our day-to-day problems.

21. GoldBoot is a cool band based out of Las Vegas who I saw perform a few years back at an oyster festival. They were so good that I picked up their first album Blackwhitegold and a t-shirt before we left. Here’s one of many great cuts from the album:

22. Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” may be very popular right now, playing on the radio regularly for some time, but IMHO it deserves the recognition. It’s an invigorating, empowering track, and I have not yet gotten sick of it.

23. Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” is also experiencing a surge of popularity — and rightfully so given its innovative use of multiple musical genres, culturally-charged lyrics, and elegantly shot music video.

24. The music of Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 film The Fountain again featured his frequent musical collaborator, Clint Mansell. This song, played during the film’s climax, is the most inspiring on the album:

25. I will finish this list the same way that Walt Disney concluded my favorite film, Fantasia, with Schubert’s “Ave Maria” performed as the sun begins to rise…

What songs help you to write the most? Send your list to [email protected]


David Bowie image via YouTube screengrab.


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