10 Film Scores to Listen to While Writing

Silence is the enemy.

When I write, I need sound in the background otherwise my brain starts cracking. I’m unable to focus on just one thing at a time. My best bursts of creative energy happen when multiple things are going on at once. I know some people who write best while watching movies. I wish I could be someone like this. I try all the time. The problem is, I usually get too obsessed with what’s going on in the movie, and by the time the credits start rolling I’ve only written a couple hundred words at most. I’ve tried watching movies and shows I’ve seen a dozen times already, but it still doesn’t work. The only exception to this rule seems to be Mad Men. I write like a crazy person when I’m watching that show. I have no idea why. I try not to question these things.

But still. Silence is the enemy. And since movies don’t work as well as I want them to, I often resort to blaring music through headphones as I write. I’ve asked a lot of writers what they prefer, and the majority of them also prefer to listen to music, but music without lyrics. They fear the lyrics might sneak into their prose. Personally, I don’t mind listening to music with lyrics as I write, if it’s music I’m already well-familiar with. If it’s new music, I can’t seem to write well while listening to it, because I am focusing too hard on deciphering the lyrics and analyzing what I’m hearing.

However, what works best—after Mad Men, of course—are film soundtracks. I don’t mean compilations of pre-existing songs like the phenomenal Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1. I’m referring more to original scores composed specifically to accompany the film. Soundtracks like the ones below.

[Disclaimer: Two of the albums on this list belong to television shows, but "10 Film and Television Soundtracks to Listen to While Writing” is a bit too long of a title. If this outrages you, please leave an angry note in the comments and we will issue you a refund immediately.]

10. ‘Midnight Special’ by David Wingo

The opening track of this album, conveniently titled “Midnight Special Theme”, is so magical, I can barely stand it. I mean that in a good way. As soon as it starts my body falls into these strange convulsions. The song initially inspires me to abandon my keyboard and go for a long drive in the middle of the night, which maybe seems counterproductive for what I’m aiming to achieve, but hear me out. I do my best thinking when I’m driving, especially at night. Some of you are the same, some of you are different—thus, the great miracle of the human race. What the Midnight Special soundtrack accomplishes so well is deceiving my brain into believing I’m on a long night-drive while I remain behind my desk trying to write, which consequently heightens my inspiration.


09. ‘The Social Network’ by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

When I heard there would be a movie about the dork who created Facebook, I laughed and thought it was the stupidest idea. Then I learned not only was David Fincher directing and Aaron Sorkin writing it, but Trent friggin’ Reznor of Nine Inch Nails was composing the soundtrack. The movie did not disappoint, and the soundtrack also predictably kicked major ass. It’s a dark ambient stream of utter coolness. For a movie about focusing and getting shit done, it makes sense that the soundtrack would inspire its listeners to follow suit.


08. ‘Stranger Things’ by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein

Most people are already familiar with the opening theme music for the Netflix-original horror series, Stranger Things, but I’m not so sure how much they’ve listened to the entire soundtrack. I’ve dived into it a couple times over the last week and let me tell you something, this soundtrack was designed to motivate horror writers. It’s a perfect blend of John Carpenter, Goblin, and Tangerine Dream. Considering Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein are the musical geniuses behind the band, Survive (often spelled S U R V I V E), this really is no surprise. I can’t wait to see what they come up with for season two.


07. ‘Under the Skin’ by Mica Levi

Listening to this soundtrack is like living with a mental illness. It fucks your mind up big-time, but in a way that opens you up creatively. It distracts the critic inside you and frees the artist to go wild. Play this one loud and scream your lungs raw as you type for the full experience.


06. ‘Neon Demon’ by Cliff Martinez

Cliff Martinez composes some of my favorite soundtracks. One of his newer albums, the soundtrack for Neon Demon, is Martinez at the top of his game. The movie itself is far from good, but what saves it are two things: it looks pretty, and the soundtrack is spectacular. It’s good music both for writing and eating eyeballs. Your choice. Feel free to choose both.


05. ‘Penny Dreadful’ by Abel Korzeniowski

I recommend listening to this album as you write gothic horror fiction illuminated by candlelight and fueled by ancient wine. The Penny Dreadful soundtrack is a time machine. Let it take you away.


04. ‘Creepshow’ by John Harrison

If you ever had a shithead for a father who often confiscated your comic books, the Creepshow soundtrack was composed just for you. It’s also legitimately creepy and a good way to spook trick-r-treaters on Halloween night. I wrote a good 5,000 words last October 31st sitting out on my porch blaring this album with a bowl of candy at my feet and a laptop in my lap, which is a crazy, unpredictable place to rest a laptop.


03. ‘Suspiria’ by Goblin

Goblin is an Italian rock band known for their collaborations with the great Dario Argento. When they get together, magic happens, and the evidence has never been greater than with Suspiria. Everything about this movie is perfect, especially the music. When I listen to this soundtrack, it’s like I’m a kid bicycling under falling autumn leaves on a deserted street. Everything feels majestic and right in the world, and the words spill from my brain like water from a faucet.


02. ‘It Follows’ by Disasterpeace

Arguably one of the best horror films of the last decade and one of the best OSTs, as well. This one starts with a bang and kind of drags you sleepily through its middle before jolting your ass awake again. The opener song, “Heels”, is of another world. So fucking good.


01. ‘Lost Themes’ by John Carpenter

When you think of great film composers, the first name that pops into your head better damn well be John Carpenter. He is without question the best of the best. Just take the original Halloween soundtrack a spin if you have any doubts. He is the king. Which is why I’m cheating with this last entry and including an album that’s scored for a film that doesn’t exist. Lost Themes is actually Carpenter’s debut studio album, meaning it’s a stand-alone piece unlike his many other film soundtracks. Lost Themes is the perfect writing soundtrack because it invites you to write the story that accompanies the music. There are no pre-existing visuals to contaminate your vision. Here’s what Carpenter had to say about the album:

Lost Themes was all about having fun. It can be both great and bad to score over images, which is what I’m used to. Here there were no pressures. No actors asking me what they’re supposed to do. No crew waiting. No cutting room to go to. No release pending. It’s just fun. And I couldn’t have a better set-up at my house, where I depended on Cody [Carpenter] and Daniel [Davies] to bring me ideas as we began improvising. The plan was to make my music more complete and fuller, because we had unlimited tracks. I wasn’t dealing with just analogue anymore. It’s a brand new world. And there was nothing in any of our heads when we started other than to make it moody.

What are your favorite soundtracks to write to?

Max Booth III

Column by Max Booth III

Max Booth III is the CEO of Ghoulish Books, the host of the GHOULISH and Dog Ears podcasts, the co-founder of the Ghoulish Book Festival, and the author of several spooky books, including Abnormal Statistics, Maggots Screaming!, Touch the Night, and others. He wrote both the novella and film versions of We Need to Do Something, which was released by IFC Midnight in 2021 and can currently be streamed on Hulu. He was raised in Northwest Indiana and now lives in San Antonio.

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Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On February 17, 2017 - 9:04am

These are great! But...no Blade Runner? I finished my novel to it.

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman February 17, 2017 - 10:54am

John Carpenter for me all the way. I had to scroll through just to make sure he was on there before I could concentrate on anything else.

_'s picture
_ February 17, 2017 - 10:56am

+1 for Under The Skin. Got that on vinyl when it came out and have written to it quite a bit. I find writing to instrumental music the best way to focus on a scene/chapter, but not so helpful when outlining.

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list February 17, 2017 - 12:07pm

I love listening to "Closing Credits: Bolero" by Craig Armstrong (from Moulin Rouge). I've also noticed that I type faster when it is playing. This is something I first discovered in college when writing literary analysis papers. It works the same with fiction. Another song that I really like is "Crystalline" by Thomas Newman (from Passengers)I tend to listen to music with lyrics more often.

Bryan Pitchford's picture
Bryan Pitchford from Orange Park, Florida is reading Stephen Dobyns's "Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry" February 17, 2017 - 12:55pm

I love writing poetry with Smashing Pumpkins on in the background. As for soundtracks specifically, Twin Peaks is everything to me.

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break February 17, 2017 - 5:43pm

Honorable mention: the Oblivion soundtrack.

Gabriela Fonseca's picture
Gabriela Fonseca February 17, 2017 - 8:36pm

Charlie Clouser's soundtrack of the original Saw movie is like a call to the arms and I listen to it when I am having a difficult day at work or writing. It's got the symphonic, the industrial, the electronic. And it brings great story twists to your head

JonathanC's picture
JonathanC from Ireland is reading a whole lot of stuff! always. February 18, 2017 - 12:24am

Ex Machina OST for the win.

JonathanC's picture
JonathanC from Ireland is reading a whole lot of stuff! always. February 18, 2017 - 12:25am

Oh...Also, The Fountain.


Jacob Engel's picture
Jacob Engel February 18, 2017 - 4:11am

Profit-when you're talking about the (typically) instrumental music written solely for the film, it's called a "score."

Daltonwriting's picture
Daltonwriting from Charlotte, NC is reading As many short story collections as I can get my hands on February 18, 2017 - 1:43pm

I also enjoy Clint Mansell and feel both Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream should also receive Honorable Mention.

Dennis's picture
Dennis from Los Angeles is reading Necroscope by Brian Lumley February 18, 2017 - 6:03pm

INTERSTELLAR by Hans Zimmer. The best...

David Gillette's picture
David Gillette from Tustin, CA is reading Transmetropolitan February 18, 2017 - 6:23pm

Who needs a film score when there's Brian Eno? His ambient music puts me into a fugue state. It's like a sensory deprivation chamber that insulates you against the annoyances of the outside world.

Jonnystaz's picture
Jonnystaz February 19, 2017 - 3:34am

For me nothing beats The Bram Stoker's Dracula soundtrack (regardless of how bad the film might be). Psycho by Bernard Herrmann, Donnie Darko OST, the Dark Knight, or any music from the Aliens series.

Jane Cox's picture
Jane Cox from Lincoln, Nebraska is reading Fall; or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson February 20, 2017 - 2:01pm

The Requiem for a Dream soundtrack and Amelie soundtrack are two that I've written to with success on multiple occasions.

yomato's picture
yomato March 2, 2017 - 4:22am

I love listening to tracks while writing. I am going to make a playlist on fildo (http://fildo.org) to keep them ready to play on my phone. Thank you  so much for the list.

William Bryan Estes's picture
William Bryan Estes from Brady, Texas is reading Savage Sword of Conan March 12, 2017 - 4:21am

I like the John Carpenter, but I prefer the Dark Knight trilogy music. 

caitlinvlambert's picture
caitlinvlambert May 4, 2018 - 12:05pm

These are all great! love these, added them to my score for writing playlist immediately! some other really good ones are Legion (fx tv show) by Jeff Russo, The Girl on The Train by Danny Elfman, and Mr. Robot (tv show) by Mac Quayle.

caitlinvlambert's picture
caitlinvlambert May 4, 2018 - 12:07pm

I also second ANYTHING by Clint Mansell.

teacherweek's picture
teacherweek August 8, 2018 - 10:41pm

<a href="https://www.thebmc.co.uk/profile"> teacherappreciation week  </a> great

teacherweek's picture
teacherweek August 8, 2018 - 10:41pm

<a href="https://www.thebmc.co.uk/profile"> teacherappreciation week  </a> great

Murasaki_Ducky's picture
Murasaki_Ducky from Austin is reading Stardust August 22, 2018 - 8:55am

Only Lovers Left Alive soundtrack has been on repeat since diving back into my novella. And I discovered the music of Jozef van Wissem. Also great instrumental music.