I’m not the only writer who has found that a low level of noise can be very conducive for productivity. A few months back in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf had an entire roundup devoted to exploring why so many people find themselves more productive in coffee shops.
His reasons jive with mine, including there being something about a certain level of distraction, working against closing time, and being out of the office making it feel less like work (he neglected to mention one massive reason: caffeine).
Personally a change of scenery can work wonders, but even when I’m home I like to have just the right amount of noise, which usually comes in the form of a sporting event droning in the background. But I’ve also known writers who lock themselves in a closet and must have complete and utter silence.
Which kind of writer are you? Do you like having a bit of noise or do you need to block everything out?
Art: “His Master’s Voice” – Francis Barraud
Mollie Player says
No noise for me! I do work in coffee shops because I love being there but the noise doesn't help.
Charlee Vale says
I need music. I make soundtracks for my WIPs and listen to pretty much exclusively that while I'm writing.
I find that a song that connects you heightens you're emotions to the place they need to be to reach out of the page and grab the reader.
I used to need music when I wrote. I couldn't write in silence, it drove me right to the edge and killed all my creativity to write in a silent room.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand then I gave birth to a child who needs to speak as much as he needs oxygen, and I found that I absolutely needed silence to write, and without it, I couldn't hear myself think. 🙂
Sally Hepworth says
No noise. Not a peep. Seriously, shut up!
If I have music in the background, I want to sing along which is definitely a distraction. Even instrumental draws my mind away from my work.
I like writing in coffee shops too, but I think for me it's about having the pressure of people around me potentially watching me that keeps me focused on my laptop rather than staring into space. I can generally block out the noises around me, so that part doesn't make a difference
Reagan Philips says
Red Wings games and movie sound tracks work great. Sometimes a CD, but occasionally I find myself stopping to sing . . . so no words is best. 😉
Hmmm. I am finding that writing with no noise whatsoever has improved my ability to think about what I'm writing. Sometimes I write with music, lyrics and all, but I turn it down so much that it is barely audible. The problem for me is, when writing in silence, is the noise of my computer's fan. I really don't want to close out everything just so there aren't many processes going, so I'll throw the earbuds in and put something like dubstep or glitch on. I used to use yWriter5 and that had typewriter sounds which thrilled the geek in me (I use Scrivener for Windows now). Still, silence suits me better but that damn loud fan!
Zequeatta Jaques says
No way could I work in a public place. I have to work at home in my office and alone. I like to have music playing in the background but it isn't a requirement.
Back and forth between music and silence. But never with other people around.
Interesting question, Nathan 🙂
In the past when I wrote often and a lot, the words poured out if there was a low level of distraction. I always preferred writing in complete silence and this was the way I'd spend whole days lost in the story world. Having said that, on rare occasions it was also useful to have mood music playing in the background. This helped to focus on the feeling beneath the scene and gave extra empathy with the characters' emotional state. The scene was usually more evocative of the prevailing mood because of the music, too, I thought.
For me, it depends on what I'm writing. When I'm writing for business, it's coffee shop type low-level noise I need. When I'm writing super-technical, it needs to be silent. When I'm writing creatively, it's the music that fits the mood of the scenes.
Another fun question. Nice to hear so many are like me. I can write anywhere, anytime…on buses, coffee shops (my favorite), or in front of the tv. My husband can't understand it! The only thing that makes me crazy is the sound of sports on tv, and I think that's just because the announcers have a distracting cadence.
Robena Grant says
Music. Instrumental for when I'm deep into the writing, but in the discovery stage music that tells me something about the character. Quiet if I'm revising/editing.
It varies, from one extreme to the other. Which can be a little aggravating when I've come out to the coffee shop and only then–amidst the din–do I realize it's a Quiet Day. True quiet (I have a family) is usually only achieved around 3 a.m.
For plotting and rough drafts, I'm usually most productive in the wee hours.
For dialogue, it's the coffee shop. Great lines, yeah. But just the rhythms of conversation. Descriptions, too, are better when I'm out and about.
Cab Sav says
Music for me too. Soundtracks and opera singers, of all strange things. Nothing with a beat, and no TV. I can't tune the TV out.
I too, work well in coffee shops. 90% of my writing is done at lunchtime in the noisy cafes around my work. Plus, as Nathan says, there's also the caffeine.
Ron Gould says
My preference is to write with instrumental music, preferably jazz playing at a background level – not loud enough to intrude into my awareness, but enough to mask the dogs barking, etc.
It's weird than I'm able to write in a coffe shop or in the train station, I don't care about noise there. But if I'm in my studio I need quiet, even the most little noise disturbs me. So I use an anti-noise ear muff XD
As for me, whether in noise or in quietness, once the inspiration is there, it rushes all out.
Bryan Russell says
I'm fine with whatever. With a little determiniation, you can make a habit out of almost anything. And necessity is the mother of invention.
Traci Kenworth says
Either really, but I prefer just a little background distraction. It helps focus my mind on what I'm doing. Too much–like I imagine I'd find in a coffee shop–wouldn't work for me.
Karen A. Chase says
I have found I can write anywhere. And sometimes what is happening around me makes it into the writing. When I was in Paris, two Americans discussing plastic surgery lead me to write my blog about it – it was part of a series that became a whole book. The original blog is here: https://bonjour40.blogspot.com/2011/05/day-27-may-17_17.html
Wombat Crossing says
When I'm writing I keep all the details of the story twirling around in my head at the same time like a plate spinner with a dozen plates whirling around on sticks. So any interruption causes all my plates to fall and crash on the floor. It takes a lot of effort to get all those plates spinning again.
Therefore, I plug in the earbuds and crank up the iPod with something loud.
I must have noise, whether I'm writing, studying, or working my day job. It helps me focus. In silence, my mind is wandering and I'll wind up singing to myself (and everyone around me – I have a loud voice).
I need music when I write. The ideas flow so much better! Coffee shops also have a great writing vibe for me.
I can, and I can't. I say this because if I'm listening to soft toned music that is soothing, relaxing and I can literally picture myself on a beach then yes I can write freely. But if my surroundings are loud or there are many distractions causing me to lose focus then I would prefer it quiet. It varies.
There's a fine line between background noise and distraction. For me, as a chronic eavesdropper, any sort of speaking is a distraction. I do my bet writing when I have my iPod on, with music playing just loud enough to block out everything around me, but not so loud as to block out my characters' voices. Coffee shops and sports on TV would just distract me from my work.
At work (I'm a copywriter) I hate being in a noisy and distracting space. I'm almost always listening to music to get the job done. I've gotten somewhat used to it though – you can't control your co-workers! I would be far more productive elsewhere, though, and sometimes step away from my desk and find a quiet corner to work.
When I'm working on my novel, I'm definitely a coffee shop writer. I only listen to my music when I find that the music of the space is too irritating or distracting. I never put any thought into why I like the coffee shops so much – I think it has to do with the caffeine and getting out of the house and office!
K. C. Blake says
I learned to write in a bowling alley, so it doesn't matter how much noise is around me at the time. I can still write. In fact I probably write better when it's noisy than when nothing is going on and it's too quiet.
I prefer low-level music in the background, but have nothing against silence. I like a coffee shop or other public place for writing because I give myself no excuse NOT to write, as in "I didn't drive all this way (5 minutes!) to surf the web or read email. Doesn't always work, but it gets me away from the other distractions my house avails me–TV, books, eating, cooking, cleaning, fixing that squeaky door once and for all.
Vicki Orians says
I definitely prefer when it's silent. It helps me get into the minds and emotions of my characters. Which is probably why I prefer it when the hubby is at work. 🙂
Daniel McNeet says
Good to have you back.
I enjoy writing and listening to classical music. But if my concentration or the muse on my right shoulder is having trouble transcribing the activities of my characters, I transcribe in silence. Except of course, the sound of the keys in the keyboard.
Depending on the day I write with blasting music, soft music, or no sound at all. It depends on what I'm writing and what type of mood I'm in. Some days I'll find that blasting music ends and I won't even notice.
The one thing I can't abide is talking while I'm writing. Music with lyrics? Great! Something with a beat? Sure! Talking? I will give you the death glare of doom, pop in some headphones, and turn my music up until I can't hear you anymore.
Music is music, so that works for me. People talking though…I guess I'd say it's like trying to have two conversations at the same time with two different groups of people on separate topics. It simply doesn't work.
Savannah Chase says
I love to write with music on…Silence is not my thing…I get inspired by music..
Maria S McDonald says
A bit of both, actually. I find that when I'm typing straight onto the computer, I need total silence. But if I'm handwriting, I can have nice, soothing music on the background.
I'm a writer in silence girl. However the tv may be on . . . muted of course.
I prefer silence, but I can edit with noise. Writing, and any noise makes leads me to distraction.
Alison Hill says
When I'm writing fiction I have to play dance music reasonably loud, Paul Van Dyke is my favorite. It drowns out the rest of the world and cocoons me in my fictitious realm. However, when I'm writing non-fiction I prefer some quiet so I can concentrate. I guess when you're dealing with facts…Love your posts by the way. Great information.
Noise, preferably music.
I did my homework that way in school, I worked in office environments with music constantly playing, and now I write with it.
I also don't get terribly bothered by noises I can't control – like Barney blaring, or the kid throwing his wooden blocks against each other. When I write, I am so busy watching the story play out in my head that the noises are just background.
Silence, on the other hand, makes it difficult.