Using a Rolling Playlist while Writing

I love music and it’s a huge part of my writing experience. In fact, I consider it a vital tool, especially playlists, and none more so than the rolling playlist. This post isn’t about specific music, but instead how I use it to my advantage. This is also highly subjective.

Over the years I’ve honed how I utilize playlists until it’s almost a flexible plan. It’s also fun because, hey, it’s music! The beauty of writing is you’re free to make your own rules. That goes for music too.

I hope you’ll take away useful information here, but, as always what works best is what works best for you.

Why Is Music Necessary?

Because I’m too curious. Surrounding noise steals my focus. Neighbors. Activity outside my building. Never can I have background dialogue, like a television or coffee shop.


Courtesy: Pixabay

Music is more than background or a filter. I use it to compliment what I’m working on. A fringe benefit is my uncanny music memory. When I sit down to edit, if I play the music from when I drafted I’m instantly back in the scene. After that, I can deviate.

Loving music means I have a lot of music available. At this moment, there are 4,393 tracks on my iMac (12.4 days worth of music, it tells me). The newest is from 2022, the oldest from 1949. Over half of it migrated from CDs years ago.

It’s there and it costs me nothing to utilize it (not now, of course).

My Extremely Loose Rules

  • Typically, I lean towards mostly upbeat music when drafting. The story’s pace also factors into my choices.
  • Reading aloud is when I work with silence or play instrumental music because I have to hear myself talk since it’s in the character’s voice.
  • Most often I want familiarity. Brand new music can be distracting unless I put it on repeat.
  • Sometimes I’m literal, like listening to jazz when a character is in a jazz club.
  • Other times, I’m abstract and subjective, like when I’m seeking a particular mood.

A note about subjectiveness. Some songs I’d choose for a mood might make no sense to anyone else. Sometimes, I associate a different mood with a song that’s contrary to its intent because of circumstances when I first heard it. Hearing it now takes me right back to how I felt then.

That’s the power of music.

Regular Playlists

I’m always free to make new playlists, of course, but often use one of about ninety. I also have playlists titled Temp, Temp2, Temp3. They’re literally temporary playlists, their contents discarded or modified often.

Yes, I really think about all this.

Some playlists exist for a certain artist, but most are intended for writing and are linked to a particular character, mood, or story. Mood and ambience tend to rule, with the mix eclectic, but blended with care.

For instance, I flavor Carrdia playlists with more acoustic music and Pannulus ones with more jazz. Mystical tuns thrive in both and there are plenty of other genres represented. Some examples:

  • Jazzesque is blues, jazz, and other urban sounds for Pannulus
  • Magic means classical, new age, old psychedelic tunes … anything mystical
  • Night is anything that’s extremely somber or melancholy
  • Rustic fits Carrdia with its country, folk, new age, and more
  • Winter sets a chilly, holiday mood, even in summer

Some of these are “basic” playlists. For instance, there are seven Night playlists. One, for instance, has elements of Magic in it. It’s also one of my oldest.

The Rolling Playlist

These exist for the sole purpose of serving my writing. For these, I utilize those temporary playlists I mentioned earlier. They’re a process, but also highly effective.

Riparia Tarnabeth Dellbane. Picture: CA Hawthorne

Riparia Tarnabeth Dellbane. Picture: CA Hawthorne

I start with 20 to 30 songs that sets a mood, listen to it for a while, then replace 3-5 of the songs. After awhile, I do it again. Thing is, the replacements subtly shift the mood over time. An extreme example is to start with a light tone, but over time shift it towards melancholy, then gloomy. As the tone changes, my subconscious notes the difference and interprets it as foreshadowing.

The inspiration for this post was because there’s a stretch in Book 6, Aramon Daughters, when that particular scenario plays out. I’m in the middle of editing it.

Later, I can continue adjusting or switch to an established playlist, which takes me back to flexibility being the key.

This is all just me being, well, me. My biggest defense for overthinking all this is that it works — for me. It’s helped make me extremely productive like maps, narrative outlines, Scrivener, targeted editing, and so much more.


About Christina Anne Hawthorne

Alive and well in the Rocky Mountains. I'm a fantasy writer who also dabbles in poetry, short stories, and map making. My Ontyre tales are an alternative fantasy experience, the stories rich in mystery, adventure, and romance. Alternative fantasy? Not quite steampunk. Not quite gothic. In truth, the real magic is in those who discover what's within.
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