Leila Sales' Perfect Writing Playlist

I love to listen to music while I write, but I can only listen to certain kinds of music. Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” for example, is a great song. However, it is a terrible song for writing. Just try writing some beautiful prose or a romantic moment while Sir Mix-a-Lot is on your computer speakers saying that he “don’t want none unless you got buns, hon.” Can’t do it.

This is why writers need a Writing Playlist, in the same way that one needs a Workout Playlist and a Driving Playlist and a Classy Dinner Party Playlist and a Dental Surgery Playlist. (Just kidding on that last one.) (But seriously it is good to have playlists ready for all occasions, because you just never know.)

Here is what we need out of writing songs...

1. Not too lyrics-heavy

Verse-chorus-verse is fine. But those songs where every word is different and they are telling you some sort of complicated story with multiple characters? Those require way more attention than I’m able to give when I am trying to focus on my writing at the same time. Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, for example, would be an ineffective writing song.

2. Not too loud or danceable

See, now we aren’t sitting our desks and producing words anymore. Now we are dancing around our kitchens. That was not the goal.

3. Nothing that dredges up really intense and painful memories

Congratulations, you have found a soft, non-danceable, reasonable-lyrics song; unfortunately, it’s Stars’ “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” and now you are googling your ex-boyfriend and crying instead of WRITING YOUR NOVEL.

4. But, something kind of emotional

 We are novelists, after all. We are in the business of emotions. Too-dry background music can produce too-dry characters.

5. Something you enjoy

 This may go without saying, but if you don’t like the music you’re listening to, if it’s annoying you, then you’re going to be thinking more about how annoyed you feel than about your manuscript. The overarching goal here is to just stay in your writing, to stay fully present in the world you are creating on the page. So you need whatever music is going to help you achieve that.

I don’t know what those songs are for you. Everyone has his or her own playlist preferences. But here is an overview of what my Writing Playlist looks like—maybe it will work for you, too! You can listen to my full spotify playlist here:

“Oh, Sweetheart” by the Shout Out Louds

“Would You Say Stop?” by the Acid House Kings

“Saturdays” by the Clientele

“America” by Simon & Garfunkel

“Black Cab” by Jens Lekman

“The Sweetest Thing” by Camera Obscura

“I Didn’t See It Coming” by Belle & Sebastian

“Sleeping In” by the Postal Service

“Elephant Stone” by the Stone Roses

“Heaven’s On Fire” by the Radio Dept.