Music for Editors and Writers

I have come to the conclusion that, no matter how I try to manipulate the situation, Spotify thinks I like two songs when I am seeking “music without words” as I edit. They are:

This song was lovely and conducive to my editing process … the first 1,293 times, but I need to move on!

And … multiple variations of Sheep May Safely Graze.

I need more than a river and sheep as my editing (and writing) background sounds!

The Backstory

I know we all have our preferred background music/noise situations. I prefer audiobooks when I drive, but if I must drive with music instead, it must contain words.

When I’m doing something that gives me a little “space” concentration-wise (i.e., not editing or writing), I tend toward Coffeehouse mixes (although Spotify hasn’t been setting my world on fire there either — I’ll tackle that at a different time).

When I started writing for SmartBrief as a freelancer almost two years ago, the first thing I turned to was the classical station on DirecTV. Then I moved on to WQXR through I Heart Radio. Eventually, I added Spotify to the mix.

Now, though, I’m needing more variety.

Therefore, I turned to my Facebook community for ideas.

Confession: I haven’t tried any of these yet (can you say “stuck in routine”?). In case you are looking for ideas, though, here they are!


This was just a misunderstanding on the part of the person who was responding (i.e., they missed the “no words” thing) and recommended Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen songs, but Broadway tunes are rarely wrong as far as I am concerned. As a writer, I have to give props to “Hurricane” from “Hamilton” because a song with the lyrics “I wrote my way out” is ….. me. (Sadly, so is “Words Fail” from “Dear Evan Hansen.”)

Words fail, also, when I need background noise that helps me edit (and write) better also. That’s why these suggestions may do the trick.


There is debate regarding the degree to which The Mozart Effect helps people be smarter; I know classical music is one of my go-to’s for concentration. These were some recommendations:

Beethoven Concerti (such as the Piano Concerto No. 5/Emperor Concerto).

Handel’s Water Music (such as Suite No. 1 in F Major)

Mozart (such as Requiem, K. 626: Lacrimosa)

Anything from the NY Times 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music list (such as Mother Goose Suite: The Fairy Garden)

Yiruma (sans the River Flows in You part, such as Prelude in G Minor)


By offering a consistent, mellow-toned, and lyric-less soundscape, electronic music can actually improve performance in immersive tasks, while providing a similar boost during repetitive tasks-through increased happiness and efficiency. ~ EDM Tunes.

Dubstep (such as Dubstep Yoga: Clouds of Wonder)

Ulrich Schnauss (such as Ships Will Sail)

Indie Rock/Jazz/Pop

If vocals don’t bug you that much during work, give them a go. Jazz, hip-hop, indie rock, blues, and everything under the sun are really up for grabs here, but remember that “ambient” is the word of the day for a productive session with music playing, at least if you’re engaged in deep work. ~ Sparring Mind

John Coltrane My Favorite Things (such as But Not for Me)

Miles David Kind of Blue (such as So What)

Wade Morrissette (such as Still) (Side note — the music situation in the Morrissette home must have been fascinating (his twin sister is Alanis))

Miscellaneous Choral/Instrumental

“…music that puts you in a positive mood has a positive effect on your performance.” One hypothesis put forth in The Learning Scientists.

Alice Coltrane (such as Transcendence)

Brazilian music (such as Falsa Biana) (note: I was warned this may result in dancing while editing)

Eklipse (such as their version of The Man Who Sold the World)

Choral Music (such as If I Were a Swan)

Gregorian Chants (such as Introit Benedicta Sit)

Jim Brickman (such as Angel Eyes)

Lindsey Stirling (such as Crystallize)

Mannheim Steamroller (such as Traditions of Christmas, especially (obviously) during the holidays)

Max Richter (such as A Catalogue of Afternoons)

Ólafur Arnalds (such as Island Songs V)

Penguin Cafe Orchestra (such as Perpetuum Mobile)

Tibetan Meditation Music (such as Guided Meditation for Violin and Water)

Tosca Radio on Pandora (which the site says includes dub influences, funk influences, “a knack for catchy hooks,” “beats made for dancing,” and “straight drum beats.”

Movie Soundtracks/Film Scores

The Princess Bride Soundtrack

One friend’s general recommendation of “film scores” led me to this great Medium post, My Complete List of Instrumental Movie Scores to Study To, so thanks, Ellana Barrett, for the recommendations. One recommendation from that list, to give you a flavor: Hand Covers Bruise from the Social Network.

Readymade Playlists

My awesome friend Beth of H.O.P.E. Unlimited (Helping Overwhelmed Professionals Excel (& Exhale) has created her own! Check out Coffee Shop Cowork. Also, check Beth’s business out for your VA needs.

Hearts of Space on Spotify.

“Music to Write By” on YouTube

Silas Hite “Sounds for a Dinner Party” on SoundCloud

Sirius XM Chill

“Theta Music Meditation” on YouTube

Beyond being a “readymade playlist,” this article from Sparring Mind discusses a bit of the science behind music’s effect on productivity and also gives a few excellent suggestions.


I appreciate everyone’s suggestions!

I incorporated the suggestions into a playlist on Spotify (find it at BGP Editing Tunes). While you’re at Spotify anyway, check out the While You Were Working playlist here. The playlist is a compilation of the songs mentioned each day in the While You Were Working SmartBrief (I’m a contributing editor and would love for you to subscribe by clicking here).

What would you add to the list of great tunes for editors and writers?

Music for editors

5 Ways to Serve Up Effective Feedback

When I was a kid, I had a contraption I used to help me practice my tennis skills during the summer. It consisted of a stationary base that I sat at the end of the driveway. Attached to the base was a flexible bungee-type rope, and attached to that was a tennis ball. I would hit the ball. The ball would bounce in the road, and thanks to the bungee it would return to me. I would repeat the process ad infinitum.

Giving Feedback

Image credit: Anthem Sports

I thought about that contraption today when I decided to write about feedback. Since I began editing for my current employer, first as a freelance editor in February and now as a full-timer, I am back in the business of giving feedback after a few years on the sidelines.

In my case, it’s a combination of giving feedback and negotiating details of our production process. It’s not Wimbledon, but it’s important to me and to my employer that what we send out in to the world doesn’t commit a fault.

Once you’re on the feedback court, here’s how to have a great game, set and match.

Direct is best

In our work, time is of the essence and the items on which we are collaborating are short. Since all of my communication occurs virtually (i.e., over Slack or email), I have the advantage of being able to send a message the recipient will be able to keep for future reference and the disadvantage of not presenting the feedback in person. Anything vague threatens to dilute the clarity of my recommendation.

The US Tennis Association says “[D]own-the-line shots are often more effective offensively but are more difficult. Crosscourt shots are easier … but also have the greatest margin for error.”

In editing, as in tennis, down-the-line shots (i.e., being direct) often work best.

Hesitation detracts from success

Once an issue presents itself and has proven to be something that needs to be addressed, hesitating to discuss it has the potential to hurt all parties involved. The person who needs the feedback doesn’t have the benefit of knowing what they need to change, and the more time elapses the less they will recall the situation in the first place. It also takes up bandwidth in your brain as the giver of the feedback, and who wouldn’t want to clear that kind of thing out to avoid mental clutter?

Tomaz Mencinger of said quick reactions give a player “more time to get to the ball, make the right decision, balance yourself … and perform your stroke properly.”

In the giving of feedback, too, hesitating to say something can deprive you of a winning point.

Building Trust Matters

As a freelance worker in the four years between leaving Healthy Kids (May 2014) and starting my current position (September 2018), almost all of my work-related conversations have occurred over email, Slack, Facebook (one of my employers coordinated everything through a secret Facebook group before moving to Slack) or Basecamp.

Now that I am responsible for giving feedback to others and negotiating the fine points of grammar, style and various operational issues with other team members, I am reminded every day of the importance of learning to trust each other.

People who love grammar can be a bit wrapped up in its importance (ask me how I know), and unfortunately even in a world dominated by the AP Stylebook, there are still gray areas and people who mean well but simply have a learning gap or strong opinion or some other hurdle that presents itself when trying to iron out an area of disagreement.

Building trust is not always easy (it’s why I am a proponent of trying to help people get to know each other outside of the narrow confines of their assigned tasks), but ultimately it leads to a higher quality product.

I want anyone who gets feedback from me to know it’s about the specifics of the question, not about them as a person, to perceive my comments as a springboard to being better, not an attack meant to quash their confidence or success.

Writing about what makes the best doubles tennis partners, Bill Previdi of the US Professional Tennis Association said, “The willingness and desire to do more than your fair share, to share the credit and the blame, and to stay calm under pressure are the keys.”

No one on a team is going to succeed without communication, on the court or at the keyboard.

Accuracy is paramount

Be specific when discussing something that would best be done differently in the future. Although Karen Hertzberg’s How to give feedback that’s constructive, not crushing is about manuscript critiques rather than the type of editing I do, this point is true regardless of the type of content:

…your job is to determine whether the writer accomplished what they set out to do.

I like that outlook, because I think most writers, editors and copy editors bring a lifetime of accumulated knowledge about language in general, as well as personal convictions about what comprises effective writing, to their work.

It is important to bring into focus the mutual goals of the publication or entity involved when giving feedback.

And in my environment, although the ethos is “pristine editing,” I always remind myself that the ultimate reader may be opening their newsletter as they ride the train in the morning, or as they gulp down their coffee as the day’s demands start to weigh in. It needs to be intelligent yet digestible.

A ball that lands outside of the lines doesn’t help a player score. That all starts with that player’s choice of how to serve or return. Ditto for editing — what I do to make the feedback clear has much to do with its effect on the outcome.

Accepting and Integrating Feedback is Important Too

Many of the best leaders and supervisors have coaches themselves. Remember the contraption I discussed at the beginning of this post? I could have stood in my driveway for five summers, hitting the ball on the bungee until the bungee wore out and snapped, and not become a better player.

There was no one there to tell me anything about my swing, my reflexes, my approach.

“Everyone needs a coach,” said Bill Gates in this TED talk. (Take the 10 minutes to listen to the talk; Gates has a point.)

No tennis player worth their salt did it without being coached, inevitably meaning they got lots of feedback. That’s true in editing and relating to colleagues too — seek out those who can help you do a better job and be a more effective team member.

(Note: The recipient of the feedback has to be receptive too, of course. That could turn into a whole other post, so I won’t pull on that thread right now, but if someone is resistant to feedback, try to work with them on the “why” of that. Accepting and acting on feedback is pretty fundamental (to their ultimate professional success and your product’s quality level).

The Post-Game Ceremony

Here, I need to digress from the traditional post-match ceremony, where there is a winner and a loser.

Virginia Wade said (according to this website):

It’s difficult for most people to imagine the creative process in tennis. Seemingly it’s just an athletic matter of hitting the ball consistently well within the boundaries of the court. That analysis is just as specious as thinking that the difficulty in portraying King Lear on stage is learning all the lines.

Delivering feedback in a professional, respectful, constructive way is about so much more than “learning all the lines.” It’s also about helping everyone win and making each player have a  share of the spotlight.

Giving Feedback


Books From My Perspective (A Mama Kat Writing Prompt)

What are you reading?

Thank you, Mama Kat for yet another week that includes a prompt I can write to somewhat easily. Maybe I’m guilty of shirking from a challenge but I am finding challenges in plenty of other areas of my life, so I’ll take a softball when it’s thrown to me  (such as “What are you reading?”).

It may be an easy question to answer, but it’s not simple because I have several books going at one time and one I am looking forward to at least as much as the ones I am reading now so it is going to get a shout-out as well!

What I Am Reading On Paper

I am reading an Advance Reader’s Edition of True Believers: A Novel by Kurt Andersen.

true believers best

Thank you, Random House, for the Advance Reader’s Editions that randomly pop into my mailbox. These always go to the top of my reading list because I want to return your generosity with a blog mention. I am moving so slowly through True Believers, however, that I will probably be the most extreme outlier in your marketing plan! This book follows protagonist Karen Hollander through her childhood filled with James Bond-esque outings with her peers, through a trajectory that briefly sees her considered for an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, to the process of writing her memoir, which results in more than one coming-to-terms moment with old truths, fragile trusts, and a perspective that has been turned inside out. I am enjoying the read. I guess the good thing about me taking so darn long is that the book and its author get a mention from me on Facebook and Twitter every Friday when I share my “Friday Reads.” Maybe that exposure counts for something!

What I Am Listening To on CD

I am listening to The 6th Target by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro.

Sixth TargetEver since I began driving my father-in-law’s car last October after his stroke, I lost my ability to listen to iPod books in the car (because I don’t have an iPod adapter in this car), so I have had to go relatively “old school” and listen to cd’s. I got this one from PaperbackSwap. This is (I believe), number six in the “Women’s Murder Club” series. In this book, Detective Lindsay Boxer searches for a criminal who opened fire on unsuspecting civilians while pursuing a series of kidnappings of wealthy young children also. It is an enjoyable read but it isn’t a book that will end up on my “favorites” list. I did note on the website, however, that there is a Women’s Murder Club “Murdertini”:

  • 4 ounces Ketel One vodka
  • 1/2 ounce triple sec or flavored orange liqueur
  • 2 ounces freshly squeezed blood orange juice
  • 2 blood orange slices
  • Dash of orange bitters

Combine all ingredients in a martini shaker except the orange slices with a good amount of ice. Shake for a few seconds, then strain the the drink into a martini glass. Garnish with the orange slices. (Optional) Dampen the martini glass rim and dip lightly in white sugar.

Maybe the mystery of why I haven’t enjoyed this book all that much lies in the fact that I have been driving around sober. Maybe I should whip up a murdertini and relax with the tome at home. I wonder what Detective Lindsay Boxer would conclude.

What I Am Listening To On My iPod

This one, folks, this one is a good read!!! On my iPod I am listening to Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

steve jobs

Due to the aforementioned car flipflop that has occurred in our family, I don’t get to listen to  books on my  iPod as much as I used to. With the exception of the day I got very lost on the Alford Greenway and heard the first couple of hours of this book, the rest has come in smaller sips. And that’s okay.

I could go on and on and on about why I find this book fascinating but I have already made this “simple” blog quite long so I will try to condense. People who defy naysayers fascinate me. People who do things differently fascinate me.  I keep wrestling in my mind with Jobs’s utter devotion to design elements and how/when/why he became a ruthless businessperson. I can’t get over the number of times he cries to get his way. That said, I am listening to how he cried (repeatedly, publicly, inappropriately) to get his way while I am listening to the story on an iPod and measuring the miles I am walking or running on an iPhone.  Steve Jobs also reminds me of someone I worked for once who is brilliant, volatile, unyielding, and in retrospect taught me more than anyone else ever has.

What I Will Be Reading Soon

Mark Klempner recently mentioned on Facebook that when his book, The Heart Has Reasons, was released in paperback, the reviews on Amazon did not follow from the hardcover version to the paperback product page. He was looking for reviewers. I couldn’t respond fast enough.

heart has reasons

I first started an email correspondence with Mark when my daughter was participating in our local Holocaust Essay Contest and I was poking around for possible resources that she might learn from.  I read an excerpt of the book and talked to Mark about possibly being an interviewee for Tenley. That didn’t work out because she took her essay a different direction, but he and I maintained an email and Facebook friendship. I am so grateful to authors who interact with us humble readers, and Mark is one of the best. I am looking forward to reading the whole book and adding my praise to the Amazon page; I know it will deserve the kudos.

What I Am Editing

I am editing a book by a local author that has a really unique concept. It is geared to 10-13 year olds and UP (no limit). In the book, a young girl “becomes” Paul Revere’s horse and leads the reader through the development of the Declaration of Independence in a creative and attention-binding way. I am excited to work with this author even though accepting another editing project means having to be even more laser-focused about time management.

In closing, this sums up perfectly why I read so many books and can’t really resist using my editing skills to help others with theirs:

Source: "I Acknowledge Beauty Exists"

Source: “I Acknowledge Beauty Exists”

Mama’s Losin’ It