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  • Hollis Jo McCollum

Your Writing Playlist


Do you play certain music when you write? Did you ever think you were maybe a bit strange or silly to do so?


Well, you are a bit, but if you're a writer that is just a part of your persona. I'm rather strange and silly myself, as are most other writers out there. Having a playlist or soundtrack to your writing soundtrack is completely normal, and frankly, I strongly encourage it. Personally, I have a playlist for every writing project I've worked on, past and present. My playlists have helped me a great deal when writing. They even help to unclog that dreaded writers' block. So, I wanted to offer a few of the things that I personally think make for a productive writing playlist. I hope they help you with your own projects as well, writing or otherwise. Having a project playlist is generally encouraged.



1. Be selective, not picky - Choosing the songs on your playlist is an emotional process, so the song has to relate to your project in one way or another, but if it's not a perfect fit, who cares? You can always delete a song later if it doesn't consistently work for you. No big deal. We no longer live in the age of mix tapes where you're stuck with the same line up in the same order forever. Though, mix tapes were an art form in themselves. That's a whole other topic.


2. Time matters - Your playlist should probably be at least 4 hours in length. Personally, I average about 8 - 10 hours per playlist. I don't set out with that goal in mind. I just add songs until I feel happy with it, but if I only have 2 hours of songs at that point, I'm not done building that playlist. Think about it. You're going to be listening to this playlist consistently (over and over again) when you work on your project, and you're likely to be working for more than 2 hours at a time. Not only would you get sick of those particular songs, but that annoyance could throw you off your creative game! That is the opposite of the intention of your playlist. Do more than 4 hours if you can, but I feel that is a decent minimum. Trust me, there is plenty of music in this world to fill the time.


3. Match the theme - This may be an obvious one, but maybe it's not. Just because you like a particular song a lot doesn't mean that it belongs on your playlist. Like I said before, building a playlist in mostly an emotional process. The songs on your playlist have to relate to your project for it to be effective. If it doesn't make you think of your characters or their situation or that particular world, it doesn't belong on that playlist. End of discussion. Save all those other songs you like to other playlists. Also, in the spirit of a good theme, keep in mind that genre of music that best relates to your project. I'm not a big country music fan, personally (much more of a indie, rock and alternative girl), but if I were building a Wild West playlist, I would definitely be listening to country songs to see what makes me better visualize that world. It wouldn't be an all country list, but I wouldn't exclude it just because it's outside of my everyday musical vernacular. Every single genre of music has value, even if it's not your favorite.


4. It's okay to be loyal to an artist or genre - This piggy-backs onto what I just mentioned above about relating your musical genre to the theme. It's completely fine if most of your playlist is a particular artist or genre, or even 100%. My favorite writing playlist is about 75% The Airborne Toxic Event, my favorite band. They just make the music that makes me feel that world the best. I'm not at all sorry about it, and nor should you be if you do the same thing. I know I sound like a broken record, pun intended, but it's an emotional process. Trust your gut.


5. It should always be a living playlist - What the heck do I mean my "living playlist?" I mean it in the same sense as the term "living language," meaning that it is still able to be updated and changed. English is a living language. We constantly change the rules of grammar and add new words to the dictionary every year! Your playlist isn't much different. It needs to continuously serve it's purpose to you. Hear a new song that reminds you of your main character? Add it to the playlist. A song plays and you wonder if you were a bit tipsy when you added it? Delete it. I update playlists even after the project is long completed just because I still enjoy listening to that playlist. Why not? Keeping the music alive helps to keep your writing feel more alive as well.


Well, I think that should just about cover it. There are always more suggestions and tweeks, of course, but in the interest of letting you get started on building your perfect project soundtrack, I'll clam up and let you discover your own musical pathway. Happy listening!




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Atlanta, GA, USA

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