Writing and Publishing

Mozart: A Writer’s Best Friend

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I’ve always been someone who’s needed peace and quiet to be able to write. The closer to complete silence the better, but failing that at least the absence of disruption. The rarity of such ideal conditions is a significant factor in why, for a long time, my progress with Avarice of Empire was much slower than I might have liked.

Then I discovered something that has revolutionised my creative work.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve developed a love of classical music, and I wish it had been very much sooner. While struggling with a particular chapter, it occurred to me that listening to music contemporary with the scenes in question might help somehow. That experiment failed to yield the inspiration I hoped for, but it did demonstrate something useful: listening to music ‘in the room’ — even soothing classical music — was just as much of a distraction as conversation, traffic noise, or a slamming door.

However, what does work wonders for me, as I later found out somewhat by accident, is having the music ‘in my head’ (via noise-cancelling, over-ear headphones) rather than being an external noise in the room. Non-active listening is the key, and it has to be instrumental music only. Throw in some lyrics and my brain automatically tries to comprehend them.

I can’t overstate the transformative impact. Whereas before I felt I needed to wait for extended windows of tranquility before even contemplating trying to write, now I just don my headphones and within seconds I’m immersed back in the story.

That approach might also be helpful to you if you struggle with distraction and creative immersion. However, for some people the complete opposite can be more appropriate. A friend of mine who has ADHD, for instance, tells me that rather than avoiding lyrics she needs their overt presence in order to keep the ‘noisy’ part of her brain occupied.

It seems there’s been all sorts of research undertaken into the potential benefits of listening to classical music, including the so-called Mozart Effect (1)

“…listening to music activates a wide distribution of brain areas.” J.S. Jenkins

“…listening to Mozart’s K448… an increase of… brain wave activity linked to memory, cognition and open mind to problem solving…” Walter Verrusio, et al.

Although the musical properties of compositions by Mozart and Bach have been found to have particularly notable effects on the brain, listening to classical music in general enhances, “…the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic neurotransmission, learning and memory…2

There’s evidently a great deal of variation in the usefulness or otherwise of listening to music from one individual to another. My partner, for example, finds classical music distracting, because as a musician she has an emotional and experiential relationship with it. Other research 4 suggests that factors such as personality type and proneness to boredom play a part, and that music ‘in the room’ can impair complex task performance.

Because having classical music ‘in my head’ has had such a profound impact on my creativity and writing output, a while ago I began curating a Music for Writing playlist on Spotify. I’ve embedded it below and there are links to it at the top and bottom of every page of this website. I recommend playing it on shuffle. Learning from the research, it includes renditions of Mozart’s sonata for two pianos K.448 and his piano concerto number 23 in A major K.488.

Do you listen to music when you’re writing (or being creative in another way)? Please do share in the comments below what you’ve found works best for you.


1. Jenkins JS. The Mozart effect. J R Soc Med. 2001 Apr;94(4):170-2. doi: 10.1177/014107680109400404. PMID: 11317617; PMCID: PMC1281386.

2. Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki). “Listening to classical music modulates genes that are responsible for brain functions.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150313083410.htm

3. Walter Verrusio, et al. “The Mozart Effect: A quantitative EEG study.” Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 35, 2015, Pages 150-155, ISSN 1053-8100, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2015.05.005.

4. Manuel Gonzalez and John Aiello (2019). More Than Meets the Ear: Investigating How Music Affects Cognitive Task Performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. 25. 10.1037/xap0000202.

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