There are two things I consider essential in my life: writing and music. Take either one away, and I'd probably curl up and rot away.
And to me, the two are intertwined. I can't write without music. I've tried. There is nothing more distracting to me than silence. I remember being a student and having to take tests with no other sound than the scratching of pens or pencils on paper. I think that's the reason I was never a good test taker -- the silence. In some of my earlier jobs, I had bosses who didn't believe in music, either, and let it be known radios were verboten. Looking back, I wonder if that's why I'd come home from those jobs so tense. Later, I had jobs where radios were given a thumbs up, if you could pull in a station.
For that reason, Internet radio wins my vote for best technology ever. I could listen to music I like, and because it was on my computer, I could set the speakers right next to me, turn them low, and never bother a soul in the office. Or, depending on the job, I could wear headphones.
But over the years I've learned that as much as I can't write without music, I can't write to music with words. Lyrics clutter my brain and distract me almost as much as silence. Instrumental is prefered; piano is best. I type along to the music as if my fingers are dancing across a piano keyboard -- oh if only they could dance across a piano keyboard and actually make music, but that's a different issue.
When I write essays, I close my eyes and let the music guide the words I type. Sometimes I don't know what I've written until I've opened my eyes and read, that's how much the music takes over. It's an amazing feeling. When I write long hand, I don't quite that same affect, but it still works pretty well.
The music also has to fit the mood I'm in. Sometimes I'll feel blocked, so I change the music and the words flow. Sometimes the weather will be gloomy and piano music is too bright. So I'll switch to guitar pieces or maybe violin. String instruments work well on rainy days. I don't know why.
I listen to Jim Brickman's piano music a lot. He's my favorite by far, and a few years ago when I went to see him, I took along a red notebook that I carried with me everywhere. It was my writing notebook. I asked him to autograph it. He looked at me oddly -- it was a strange request, especially when most people were handing him music books and cd covers. I said, "I'm a writer, and when I write, I always listen to your music. This is what I write in." He opened the notebook and saw the hand-written pages.
"Nobody's ever told me they use my music as writing background," he said. He was touched and excited enough to tell the other performers. And he signed the notebook cover. It sits on a shelf in my office.
I'm typing this now while I listen to Christmas music. Each letter in synch with Ave Maria. It's a very easy tune to write to.