Get Inspired Mondays, Writing

Shuffling Internal Playlists, and Never Pressing STOP

Photo Via Microsoft Clip Art

The first time I ever heard Matthew Wilder’s song “Break My Stride” was at a birthday party when I was about nine years old. We were at a roller skating rink, and there may or may not have been leg warmers involved.

I don’t remember every verse from the song, but the catchy refrain snuck its way into my head as we slowly circled around — clutching safety bars and laughing as we fell flat on purple combs that stuck out of our back pockets.

Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride

Nobody’s gonna slow me down, oh-no

I got to keep on moving

Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride

I’m running and I won’t touch ground

Oh-no, I got to keep on moving

This isn’t one of my favorite songs by any stretch, but over the years its beat and lyrics have defined the internal playlist of my more productive moments:

As I endured a train ride on the last leg of a long trip overseas.

As the gun went off while I pressed forward in a race.

As I opened to the final page of a college exam.

As I interviewed for jobs. And, interviewed again.

As I walked the floor with a colicky baby on my shoulder.

As I wrote.

But, then there was that other song.


When my oldest daughter was a few months old, it was necessary for me to start a new job while my husband finished school. The job was in a small office, with small morale, and a small boss who sometimes carried a bad-tempered stick.

Boss Man was a fan of Joni Mitchell, so her music was often the background noise to our dreary basement quarters.  In particular, I remember her song “The Circle Game” playing over and over, and then of me coming home and humming the refrain as I trudged to the day’s finish.

And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time

We can’t return, we can only look

Behind from where we came

And go round and round and round in the circle game

I’m sure others find this song a sweet reflection, but to me it embodied my life at that moment; “captive on the carousel of time.” I was stuck at a job that I didn’t like. I was away from my daughter. I felt trapped.

I worked there for three uninspired years, and I don’t think I wrote one word during that time. I had pressed STOP.

For three years.


I know many writers who work best when listening to music, even making soundtracks to go with specific books, stories, or characters they create. I wonder, though, what they play during the times when the words just aren’t coming, or when their life has them stuck against the wall?

It’s Ok to press PAUSE every once in a while. REPEAT? Sure. And pressing RANDOM can make things really interesting.

But, STOP? Not so great. That’s when it’s time to change your life’s soundtrack to whatever tune motivates you.

And, then, keep on moving.

What’s on your playlist today?


This post was part of Get Inspired Monday! — a series created to help you dig into your week and find inspiration in unexpected places.

*Find me on Twitter @amandahoving

37 thoughts on “Shuffling Internal Playlists, and Never Pressing STOP”

  1. I was also on STOP for three years while working in a call center job I hated…I quit writing entirely! I’ve been on PLAY again since starting my blog last March.

    Musicwise, I have broad tastes…I have a separate music page on my blog. I’m sorry that your boss ruined Joni for you…she’s one of my faves (I have a hate for Frank Mills’ “Musicbox Dancer” – it played constantly at a short-lived job that I didn’t enjoy)!

    I’m glad you’re back on PLAY, Amanda!



    1. Ugh…it’s those jobs that brought us both down. I wish I would have tried harder to stick with writing during that time, because I think it would have helped.

      No matter — I’ve been on PLAY for over ten years now, and don’t plan on stopping.

      Thanks, Wendy!


  2. The closest I’ve gotten to STOP is living in Nashville — believe it or not, the radio stations just suck there. It was like there was literally no music to listen to, and I even like country, and for whatever reason listening to non-local radio stations on the internet didn’t strike me as an option. So, even though I love listening to music, it was the one era in my life that didn’t add to my playlist at all and it was definitely a ‘spinning the wheels’ kind of situation.

    My major PLAY is, embarassingly, Katrina and the Waves’ ‘Walking on Sunshine’. I heard it at the bowling alley. I heard it when I successfully interviewed for a scholarship. I still hear it in my head when something’s going right. And now that I’m back in Austin, I’m hearing all sorts of stuff, and KSGR is my favorite radio station ever.

    It’s good to be back on PLAY, glad you are too.


    1. ‘Walking on Sunshine’ is the ultimate bowling alley song. Truly. I also think it’s much better than ‘Break My Stride’ so I may need to think about switching…hmmm.

      Glad you got your mojo back, too, WoPro~


  3. I loved music of nearly every kind (not fond of Dixieland Jazz or repetitive blues), and have spent a good portion of my life totally submerged in music. I’m one of those people who can name a song–almost any song–within the first three or four bars, much to the amazement–and anoyance–of people around me.

    There is always–and I mean always–a song running through my head unless I am concentrating very hard on something else… and often then, as well. I suffer from “earworms”, although I’ve recently come up with a solution to the problem for night time mental unrest.

    All this said, as much as I love music, I’ve found that I cannot work well with it playing in the background. Perhaps I should rephrase that and say I work BETTER without music.

    If music must be played, it needs to be either instrumental, or if it has lyrics, they need to be in a language I do not speak… otherwise, I’m doomed to follow along with the words.


    1. I also work better without music playing, Richard, but I can’t seem to turn it completely off from playing over and over in head.

      I would be interested to hear the solution to your “night time mental unrest?”

      Thanks for reading!


  4. This one really made me think. There were hard periods in my life where I pressed STOP, but not for long. I think I hit PAUSE a lot when life would intrude. My favorite is a little structured randomness–all songs that I’m really in love with, shuffled. I get to feel that feeling of surprise when that song comes on, that “OMG, this is my favorite song and it came on at just the right time all by itself” feeling. I keep many ideas in rotation in my head, and I keep clicking next until I hit one I just have to let play. It’s an adventure…and a study in Writing related ADHD.

    I have an early morning playlist that is all inspirational, motivational songs: Ain’t No Stopping Us Now–McFadden & Whitehead; Ain’t No Stoppin’ Sunshine-Yoli; Get Up–Amel Larrieux; Just Once–Amel Larrieux; Settlin’-Sugarland; Pocketful of Sunshine–Natasha Bedingfield; I Choose–India.Arie; Feeling so Good–Jennifer Lopez; This is the Day–Fred Hammond & Radicals for Christ; and so on. It’s great to be encouraged first thing.

    I finally found a writing buddy to hold me accountable to writing, and I’ve been recording my random ideas on a little digital recorder to get back to later. I feel free to go down the rabbit hole chasing after one idea to its conclusion now I know where to find the others.

    Great post (sorry for long comment)


    1. Thanks 2blu and I loved your comment. Ah…”Writing related ADHD” I hear you on that. For me, it’s more of an avoidance tactic at times, I think.

      I’m happy you have so many ideas to chase after~


  5. So glad to be reading Get Inspired Mondays again! Oh, yes, there have been long stretches of PAUSE in my life, but I don’t think I ever hit stop. Even when I didn’t have a chance to shape a whole manuscript, the ideas were always milling about and sometimes I managed to get them into a notebook but the good ones that didn’t make it in, still stuck in my head. But in all truth, those pauses sometimes FELT like stops.


  6. Amanda, thank you. I was placed on a carousel in too many ways and it has stayed, dominating my head. But you are so right. I must keep changing the tune, remembering that I get to choose now.


  7. Great piece! I always listen to music when I write, usually not wrapped around a scene or character so much as the mood I’m trying to convey in the scene. When I get stuck, hung up with writing, I have two songs that I play obsessively: ‘Shadow Stabbing’ by Cake, and Nick Cave’s ‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World.’

    But stuck in life? ‘Move Along’ by All American Rejects, ‘What About Everything,’ Carbon Leaf. It’s always nice when life finds a soundtrack; life on STOP is no fun at all.


  8. i’m in the middle of editing a novel i wrote over a number of years (pressing ‘stop’ way too many times to count). while writing my list included the last few songs on Third Eye Blind’s first album, some downtempo jazzy/hip-hop/house concoction a dj friend made for me, and a whole lot of Coldplay. since i’m editing, i’m listening to those things again, trying to get the same feeling back.


  9. Hi Amanda,

    I do listen to music when I’m writing — writing my novel, anyway. I found a neat little thing on YouTube that allows you to create your own playlist. I don’t watch the actual videos (obviously) but the songs play in a loop. I posted one once on my own writing blog.

    Every time I come across a new song, I add it in to a playlist. When I get bored of a song, I delete it. When I have too many songs in a playlist, I create another. Right now I have four playlists, and will likely soon create a fifth.

    My playlists are all upbeat, with selections from bands like Metric, The Breeders, and New Order. Interestingly, some of my favourite bands are not on the playlists (like The Tragically Hip, The Beatles, U2) — maybe because I get too distracted when they’re playing? It has to be music that I like, but can keep pushed to the background. A difficult balance!



    1. Hi Graham — I think you make an interesting point about not choosing your favorite bands to listen to while you work. I like it quiet when I’m writing, but I know that if my favorite songs came on, I would stop writing to sing along. I’ve very singy-songy that way. 😉

      Thanks for stopping by~


  10. I am a music junkie. There’s something like 3,000 songs on my computer which play all the time while I write in the randomest shuffly you ever heard. I like headphones and hard music a lot to create energy, but I also know where to go when I need inspired. When I want lots of emotion I may pop on a band called 10 years. When preparing lectures for teaching I seem to end up with Evanescence on a good bit.
    We all have a soundtrack to our lives. I love talking about stuff like that. It goes with my whole meaning of life/pop culture blog persona. Great, great post.


    1. Thanks, Clay! I love that you prep for lectures in that way. Have you ever noticed a difference in the quality of the lectures that were prepped with music vs. without (or those written while listening to one type of music vs. another)?

      And, “randomest shuffly” may be my new favorite phrase of the week. Yes, there is a prize for that.


  11. I am very vulnerable to music. I have to be careful, b/c I may be in a positive mood, and then a song will come on and I’ll fall into a heap of tears.

    So, I have that little lovely aspect of myself…


  12. I stopped writing for over ten years and I hope to not do that again! I don’t listen to music when I write because I get distracted from what I’m writing. I’ve got tons of music on my MP3 player for the rest of the day though. Pop, country, rock, it’s all there 🙂


  13. Lovely post, Amanda. I can’t think of a song that I hear over and over right now…hope that’s not a bad omen 🙂 But then, I can’t write with music. I get lost in the lyrics.

    On the plus side, when I log into Pandora now and then, I find all sorts of inspiration in the songs. I guess that means, for me, music feeds my creative self in those moments when I can’t sit down to write.



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