How to Write with Clarity, Focus, and Music. Plus, My Favorite Writing Albums.


If it wasn’t for Sufjan Stevens, I would have never graduated university. And if it weren’t for Helios, I would struggle to pen slick copy for tech clients. Like me, you might find that different projects warrant different types of sonic energy— in my case, bold coaching clients get their copy sweetened to the thrum of noise rock or dub-step. And then sometimes, if I’m writing for lawyers or artists, it’s all about monotonous shamanic tribal music.

In this post, I’ll lay out tips for writing to music + spill the albums that will stir your pencils.

1. Don’t listen to music with words unless you are doing a task like cleaning, working out, or driving.
Lyrics use the language center of your brain, so writing, reading (especially if you’re reading “up a level”) or learning a new skill is nearly impossible if you’re listening to music with lyrics. (I have a different experience with poetry but it’s best to experiment on your own.)

2. When doing repetitive tasks, like answering emails, experiment with upbeat music or music that makes you happy. It will translate into your communications.

3. Listening to the same kind of music every time you write assists in triggering your brain (Pavlov style) into accessing that scribe mode. I like to sample albums, find the gems that really move me, and then listen to them repetitively when writing. I’ve included some of these below. Choosing albums you already know and love might also work for this, but not if you have sense-memory triggers. (Like if your listening to an album that makes you think of your grandfather’s fresh baked bread, thereby leading to a distracting emotional or physical reaction. Mmm…bread. Of course, if you want to actually write about that bread, it’s a totally different story. Just remember that bread music won’t help you write a blog post on helpful apps. Catch my drift?)

Since I’ve been writing professionally for roughly 7 years, I’ve tried on a lot of albums for size. These are my top favorite  for general focus — in that they have a gentleness to them, they’re a bit ambient, acoustic or instrumental — and of course, they have no lyrics.

The most important part of this listening art is to experiment and be open to new genres.

Here are my 5 most recommended albums for clarity, focus, and serenity during writing.

Artist: Helios
Album: Bless This Morning Year
Vibe: Thoughtful, Cold, Delicate, Ambient.
If it were a landscape: Summer Tundra.

Artist: All India Radio
Album: Echo Other 
Vibe: Deep, Hollow, Expansive, Percolating.
If it were a landscape: Spacescape.

Artist: Ludovico Einaudi
Album: Una Mattina 
Vibe: Rich, Sweet, Honed, Comforting.
If it were a landscape: Rainy Lake.

Artist: Kaki King
Album: Glow
Vibe: Optimistic, Thrumming, Intense, Fiery.
If it were a landscape: Alpine Mountains.

Artist: Zoe Keating
Album: Into the Trees
Vibe: Wistful, Deliberate, Haunting, Grounded.
If it were a landscape: Forest at Dawn.