One interesting effect of quarantine has been that I haven't been listening to music nearly as much lately. Most of my listening usually happens in the car as I'm driving around. But now that I'm only going to the grocery store (a five-minute drive from my place), that's barely enough time to get in one full song and maybe half of another song. 

As I thought about this, I started browsing through the music on my laptop, and it reminded me of a useful trick. A lot of people like to make playlists to help them get in the right mood or mindset for writing. So today, I thought I'd share my tips for creating a custom playlist for your WIP (work-in-progress).

When I make this kind of playlist, I choose music from several categories:

  • Music related to the setting

  • Music that reminds me of the characters

  • Music that relates to a major plot point, conflict, or theme in the story

  • Music that has the right mood for a particular scene

For example, my novel-or-screenplay-in-progress is about an impetuous princess (Patricia) who schemes to marry an awkward prince (Xander) to escape her overprotective father (Marcus)and accidentally plays right into the hands of Marcus's bitterest enemy (Damien). Here's a sample of my playlist for this project:

  • "A Thousand Years" by the Piano Guys

  • "Unconquered," "Isis Rising," "Splendor," "Brothers-in-Arms," and "Radiant" from the Medieval Times Original Soundtrack

  • "I Do Adore" by Mindy Gledhill

  • "Fight Song/Amazing Grace" by the Piano Guys

  • "Rewrite the Stars" from The Greatest Showman, both the soundtrack version and the Piano Guys version

  • "Blessings" by Laura Story

The Medieval Times tracks come from a dinner-theater-style show with live medieval jousting and combat, so they fit the medieval-fantasy setting of this story perfectly. Most of the red songs capture the vibe of the awkward, fumbling, first-love-and-then-something-deeper romance between Patricia and Xander. "Rewrite the Stars" fits it particularly well, given that Patricia wants the relationship, Xander also wants it but isn't sure it can work, and Marcus strongly disapproves. "Fight Song/Amazing Grace" could be Patricia's theme song as she stubbornly tries to do things her way but comes to learn that not everything is about her.  

Some of the songs serve multiple purposes. For instance, "A Thousand Years" describes the relationship between Marcus and his wife, Lydia. However (minus the wedding-specific lyrics), it also describes how Marcus feels about Patricia, who not only is a rainbow baby but later survives the accident that kills Lydia. 

"Blessings" is the oddball track in this list. Even though the lyrics are hopeful and have nothing to do with the story, the music has a penetrating sadness to it. That mood was the perfect background as I wrote a scene in which Damien has captured Marcus and taunts him about Patricia's presumed death. Marcus is utterly broken by this point, and Damien knows how to dig at him in small yet excruciating ways, so the scene needed subtlety. Thus, this song worked out perfectly.

Need some inspiration or just some background noise while you're writing? Try putting together your own playlist with songs that fit your setting, characters, plot points, or needed moods. If you prefer sounds rather than music, try It has mixes for everything from the Gryffindor Common Room to a nocturnal storm to the inside of the Tardis.

Write on,


P.S. I know times are financially tough for everyone right now. If you need some help with your writing but can't afford a full-manuscript edit, I offer other services for a significantly lower price. Click "Services Offered" at the top of this page to explore your options.

(Thanks to C D-X for sharing their work on Unsplash.)