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Every January I put together a new “Writing Playlist.” This isn’t always because I have new music, mind you. Most of the time I just enjoy cycling through my rather large collection of movie soundtracks.
This Christmas I did get some new writing music, however–and I spent some time revisiting a few of my old favorites. I’m very picky about my writing music: I need tracks that won’t derail my train of thought by triggering either a Fangirl Attack (which is why “One Shot” from Avengers: Endgame will not be on this playlist) or an Anxiety Attack (no “Flight to the Ford,” thank you very MUCH).
But I also need tracks that stir my imagination and emotions. I want you to care about my characters and what they’re going through, so I need music that reminds me of characters I love. I think that’s part of the reason why I love movie soundtracks so much. When I hear “The Real Hero” from the Avengers: Endgame soundtrack, I think of Tony Stark (and occasionally still cry). When I hear “The Force Is With You,” I see Rey standing up to Emperor Palpatine. When I hear “The Shepherd’s Boy,” I see the Twelfth Doctor fighting his way through a diamond wall.
So here are some of the composers and soundtracks I’ll be enjoying as I embark on some new writing adventures in 2020! I hope it’ll give you some ideas for your own playlists 🙂
1. The Lord of the Rings soundtracks
I first bought these soundtracks in 2004 as a giddy twelve-year-old completely obsessed with The Lord of the Rings. While a few of the tracks have always had a special place in my heart (“The Black Gate Opens” and “Concerning Hobbits” come to mind), it’s been years since Howard Shore’s magnum opus featured so heavily in my writing playlist.
- The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring *
- The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers*
- Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King*
2. Joel Clarkson
I appreciate Joel Clarkson because he knows how important music is when it comes to concentration. He composed his latest album, Story Book Soundscapes, as a helpful resource for people–whether students, creatives, or both!–who need background music that’s both epic and non-distracting. I also love his album Music for the Lifegiving Home, which features a special theme for each month of the year (“January: A Framework for Home” is my favorite).
3. George Winston
George Winston’s haunting holiday album has been a Christmas staple in our home for as long as I can remember. In fact, it’s the ONLY Christmas CD I listen to year-round, and ONLY because most of the tracks aren’t traditional carols AND because it’s probably the most relaxing music in my entire library. More recently I’ve come to enjoy his Summer album; for some reason it reminds me of Wendell Berry’s novels.
4. John Williams
I’m pretty sure John Williams has a larger presence in my music library than any other composer. When you count everything I own from Far and Away to Star Wars to Indiana Jones to Jurassic Park to War Horse, it sounds and looks about right. I’ve loved Williams’ distinctive, epic style for years, and these three soundtracks are my current favorites:
- Far and Away* (one of my favorite movies, by the way)
- War Horse*
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker* (you knew it would be on here, didn’t you?)
5. Call the Midwife soundtrack
Let the record show that this is the only soundtrack that made me CRY while listening to it for the first time! I wept for “Barbara’s Last Journey”–unsurprising, since I ugly-cried for That Particular Scene. This beautiful show will be the death of me one day. In all seriousness, though, this soundtrack is full of lilting whimsy and joy beyond the walls of grief. Listen to it and be blessed.
6. Doctor Who music
Now, unlike Call the Midwife or even The Rise of Skywalker, I cannot actually listen to an entire Doctor Who soundtrack straight through while writing. There are just too many action tracks. It gives me Anxiety. My solution? I cherry-pick tracks out of the albums! In this one instance, I can have my cake and eat it, too: Whovian Feelings are fully activated without sending me and my writing into a tailspin. (I did a whole blog post on Doctor Who music, by the way, which you can read here.)
7. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society soundtrack
Despite my ongoing sorrow over the fact that this movie still isn’t out on DVD (*glares at Netflix*), this album has been a staple of my writing playlists for quite a while now. It’s similar to Call the Midwife: simple and relaxing, yet deeply emotional and even sweeping at times. My favorite tracks are “Juliet and Dawsey” and “Across the Sea,” though again, this is one album I could listen to straight-through.
Three Honorable Mentions:
- Avengers: Endgame*: not really a soundtrack I can listen to from beginning to end, but “The Real Hero” is absolutely gorgeous. Great for writing those tear-jerker scenes. I’m just sayin’.
- The Intern*: A delightful, whimsical soundtrack from an equally delightful, whimsical film, this soundtrack that would be perfect for writing a contemporary romance. Not that I’ve actually written any contemporary romances, but I just have a strong feeling about this.
- Little Women (1994)*: My entire family listens to this soundtrack on a regular basis! The main theme always reminds me of Thanksgiving and Christmas, since we always watch the movie while we do our holiday baking–but it’s wonderful background music for any creative project, as well.