Do you write in silence or surrounded by noise?

Do you write in silence or surrounded by noise?



I have discovered through the years that I write most productively when I am in complete silence. Without noises or voices to distract me, I can most effectively come up with the words I need to tell the story I’m working on for a client. I think I’m an anomaly, however.

In seventh grade, our social science class was given the option to have soft music on in the background as we took a final exam. The majority of the class, including me, voted to allow the music. At first it was really nice. And then I realized, almost too late, that I was supposed to be taking a test. I wasn’t there to listen to music, I was there to demonstrate I could write an essay on ancient cultures. With only a few minutes left in the class, I asked to sit outside the room, where it was quieter. Only then could I get back to listening to my own brain work, rather than hearing familiar songs I couldn’t help but sing along to.

Once in the work world, I grew accustomed to working surrounded by ringing phones and people having conversations. The halls at Kodak were bustling but eventually became white noise to me. I could craft memos and press releases and creative briefs in no time when I really focused.

But when I went out on my own and established a boutique marketing agency, somehow I thought we needed music playing in the background to be cool. My employee and interns thought it was great. I can only assume they were not working with words much because I had a lot of trouble concentrating even when classical music was on. Eventually I had to turn the stereo off in the name of productivity.

Now ensconced in my own home office, I can get quite a lot done in a short period of time when no one is around. I close my door and sit, staring at my computer, searching for words I know are lurking in my brain. And without the distraction of a loud lawn mower, or music, or TV, or neighbors chatting outside, I can generally find them fairly quickly.

Many of my friends, however, rely on music to help them get through the day. While I envy them, I also know my brain just isn’t wired that way. And colleagues who head to Starbucks to get work done have my complete admiration. The only thing I seem able to do when I’m sitting at Starbucks is to listen on the conversations around me. I’m not able to block them out, despite the fact that I wish my ears had never heard some of them.

Am I the only writer who needs complete silence to be most productive? What sounds do you like to hear while you’re writing?

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Marcia Layton Turner

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