March 20, 2023

The Benefits of Listening to Music While Writing

I’ve been learning a lot about ADHD and how it makes my brain tick differently since being diagnosed in the past year, and something that I didn’t anticipate being as game-changing as it is has been listening to music while I work and write. The extra stimulus listening to music provides is just enough to keep me focused on a task I might otherwise have trouble sticking with.

Just an example of the kind of thing you might find playing in my office while I’m working.

Of course, you don’t have to struggle with ADHD to find listening to music beneficial. In fact, many writers listen to music while they work to help enhance their writing process.

How Music Affects the Brain

Listening to music actually activates the brain’s reward system which explains why many people find music so enjoyable. People with ADHD rely much more on their brain's reward system to maintain focus and therefore can benefit immensely from melodic background noise.

One study found that listening to music can activate the same reward centers in the brain as other pleasurable stimuli, such as food or drugs. When participants listened to music they enjoyed, their brains released dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward (source).  Another study found that listening to music can increase the release of dopamine in the brain, leading to feelings of pleasure and reward (source).

Choosing the Right Music for Writing

However, not all music is the same. So what type of music is best suited for writing? This largely depends on personal preference, but some writers find that instrumental music or music without lyrics can be less distracting and allow for greater focus. Others may find that listening to certain types of music can help them get into a specific mood or mindset for their writing.

For me, genres like electronic and dance are too distracting and get me too excited to concentrate on work. And if a Lady Gaga song comes on, you better believe all productivity ends as I can’t help but get up and dance.

I tend to stick to unobtrusive melodies when I work with a steady tempo and simple instrumentation. My favorite genres for focus include instrumental jazz, bossa nova, and lo-fi. Most of the time, I stream my music via YouTube. Bonus points if the video is of a coffee shop/bookstore and features a cute cat.

Train Your Brain to Get into the Writing Zone

In addition to improving focus, listening to music can also help you get into the right mindset to work. By consistently listening to a specific genre of music while writing, your brain learns to associate that style of music with the act of writing, which can make it easier to get into a productive mindset each time you sit down to write.

For example, if you consistently listen to improv jazz while writing, your brain may start to associate that music with the act of writing, making it easier to get into a productive mindset each time you listen to it.

Final Thoughts

Music has many benefits, from increasing focus to enhancing creativity and inspiration. If you struggle with ADHD like me or simply want to try something new to boost your writing productivity, give it a try and see how it works for you. Don’t forget to experiment with different types of music and find what works best for your personal writing process.

If you already use music in your writing process, let me know what you listen to!


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