What Music Helps You Write?

When I need to write but I'm having trouble concentrating, or transporting myself into that weird twilight head-space that makes me productive, I turn to music. I'm certain this applies not only to writing work but to lots of other mental tasks as well, but there's something about music that helps shut out the white noise of extraneous thoughts, and streamlines my ideas. That said, it has to be the right kind of music, and though I've been honing my "writing" iTunes playlist for years now, I still can't identify exactly why certain songs work so well for me and others don't. I'd love to hear what kind of music helps YOU write -- partly because I'm starting to get sick of the same 50 songs!

Here are some of the rules about what tends to work for me, and some examples.

RULE #1: no lyrics. Slight wordless vocalizations are OK, but lyrics get in the way of the words that are trying to find their way out of my brain. Nick Cave's ghostly moaning on this track from the soundtrack to The Proposition is about as much as I can take. (The whole album is great for writing, though. Especially if you happen to be writing about the desert!)

RULE #2: Something about Phillip Glass works for me. About 50% of his stuff makes my brain click into high gear -- the rest makes me want to scratch my eyeballs out. This track from Glassworks falls into the former category.

RULE #3: Somewhat repetitive, simple, atmospheric. One artist who fits the bill even more often than Glass is Zoe Keating, who is just one woman with a cello but often sounds like five or ten -- she samples and loops her own playing, and the result is mesmerizing.

RULE #5: Sometimes nothing works better than a simple piano playing alone. The composer known as Goldmund does this to a tee.

RULE #6: No distracting flourishes or crazy tempo/volume changes. That takes me right out of it and I skip the track immediately. For instance, this track from the Kronos Quartet's excellent Dracula would be perfect if not for the intermittent buh-DAAAAH!

So -- what music helps you write?

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]


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