Music for Writing: Divergent & Convergent Creativity

I typically wake up around 4 AM.  I make coffee and put on headphones at my laptop.  The immediate goal is to fully absorb myself in the world of my characters.  This is a zen-like process, requiring me to let go of my worries and inner chatter.  I use background music.  Depending on my creative mode, I seek ambiance for either divergent or convergent creativity.

Cinematic Soundtracks for Divergent Creativity

Today's movies, TV shows, and video games are crafted with moody, melodic soundscapes that deserve more attention.  Some of it makes great background music for creative work.  The idea is to have stimulating instrumental music that doesn't capture your attention.  It's not there for your enjoyment.  It's for ambiance while you work, right?

Soundtracks range from dramatic scores to minimalist, acoustic sketches to pounding, post-industrial  landscapes.  When I'm in a "divergent" mindset, I'm not going to be bothered if a track's emotion and tempo doesn't align with what I'm working on.

Some example tracks with powerful mood and ambiance:

  • The Social Network by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Another Happy Day by Olafur Arnalds, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Jon Brion, Hero by Itzhak Perlman and Tan Dun, The Village by James Newton Howard, Kelebek by Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Syriana by Alexander Desplat, There Will Be Blood by Jonny Greenwood, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by Alberto Iglesias, Waltz with Bashir by Max Richter, Munich by John Williams, Hanna by Chemical Brothers, Gohatto by Ryuichi Sakamoto, The Fountain by Clint Mansel, Dark Void by Bear McCreary
In my writing playlists, I include a diverse range of music - not just movie soundtracks.  And I tend to cut any extremely dramatic orchestrations.

Ambiance for Focused, Convergent Creativity

Thunderstorms.  Waterfalls.  Ocean waves.  Jungles and rainforests.  For me, these soundscapes have nothing to do with "visualizing" myself within them.  It's entirely about a white-noise that perhaps triggers appropriate brain waves and relaxation.  Whatever is going on, it definitely helps me focus on the world of my characters.

Everybody is a little different.  I mostly rely on natural soundscapes, but other types of audio can work.

Less is more.

Examples to explore:
  • Dr Jeffrey Thomas (nature sounds), Sounds of Nature Relaxation
  • Music by Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Ruichi Sakamoto, Dustin O'Halloran, Phillip Glass, Michael Askill, Riley Lee, Erik Satie, Bill Evans, etc.
I suggest experimenting with routine sounds and longer tracks.  I would recommend avoiding "favorite songs" or anything with lyrics.  Don't try to "set a mood."  The music/audio is not there to be enjoyed, noticed, or visualized.  Aim for ambiance that helps to clear your head.  Calm soundscapes full of empty space that help you focus.  Right?

It's about getting absorbed into the characters and their world.  :)

I'm always eager to get music suggestions!