The Playlists Trick

Here’s a trick I sometimes use. Not always, but it’s worth trying.

Usually when I sit down to write, I realize I have a range of voices to explore. Say I’m writing headlines for a chocolate company (or playing with layouts, if you’re an art director). Here are three areas off the top of my head that I could explore:

  • Chocolate is an almost sinful indulgence.
  • Chocolate is something I enjoy alone when I’m feeling content.
  • Chocolate is something I share with friends during the good times.

Here are three very different ways of writing about chocolate. And depending on the brand, they could all be valid.

That’s when I make my playlist.

Even if I’m only dealing with print, I’ll take my areas and make a playlist for each area. For the three areas I’ve listed above, maybe I’ll do a Genius playlist on iTunes based on the following:

  • Sinful indulgence = “Justify My Love” by Madonna
  • Alone + feeling content = “Peng!” by Iron & Wine
  • Friends + good times = “Suddenly I See” by KT Tunstall
Then I’ll listen to these playlists as I write. This does two things for me:
  1. It keeps me from falling into a rut of writing a certain way. For years, I would write almost exclusively to jazz. No matter the assignment, I’d break out Miles Davis or Chick Corea. But I’ve learned that if I were writing lines for a motorcycle videogame, “Kind of Blue” might not put me in the same frame of mind as “Wildflower” by the Cult.
  2. It lets me stumble upon (and steal) ideas. While doing this playlist exercise a couple days ago, I was listening to an Iron & Wine song and heard the lyrics “the Pearly Gates have some eloquent graffiti.” I’d never really noticed that line before, and the word “eloquent” fit really well with what I was writing. Not sure I would have stumble upon it if I hadn’t been listening to “The Trapeze Artist.”

2 thoughts on “The Playlists Trick

  1. This is a great idea. I must listen to classical music while messing with websites so I don't kill anyone that accidentally wanders into my office. But I like your idea better.


  2. That's one of my favorite Iron & Wine lyrics (what follows it, the graffiti, is “Like 'We'll meet again' and 'Fuck the man'
    And 'Tell my mother not to worry'”).

    The advice of changing up your music is great. I always encourage writing students to mess around with their routine/ritual. Try different music, try different locations, different pens, different utensils, etc. It all creates a different feel and can affect your tone.


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