What do you listen to when you write?

The Siren by John William Waterhouse. She's saying: "Ah come on, have a break, have a wee cup of tea. And would you like a biscuit to dip in it too?"

In an effort to keep myself in my seat, at my keyboard and editing the latest draft of Blackwatertown, I put on some music.

It’s been one of those days. The outside world was calling – fresh air, sunshine, forest. In other words – that four letter word distraction was singing its siren song. So I needed to drown it out.

I’m all for getting outside. But with the paying job on hold today, it was an opportunity to do some necessary book editing. Hence the music to keep me tapping along.

But is music a good idea? If I cast my mind back through the mists of time to the prehistoric age when I was revising for school exams, I doubt the late great John Peel‘s contribution helped at all. (Helped me be more human perhaps, but not to remember chemical formulae.)

And does a desire for musical accompaniment suggest that my book is insufficient in itself to hold my attention? Anyone’s attention? Aargh, I’m doomed. Though, to be fair, I have read it a few times. And I tend to multitask anyway – lots going on at once.

But if music be the food of editing – what tunes?

It can’t be something that’s going to lift me out of my chair, capering about the room, singing along – nor some ballad of historical wrongs – nor something too sad – nor something too interesting.

Maybe what I should be aiming for is how Belle and Sebastian were described in High Fidelity (the film anyway, haven’t read the book). Something along the lines of something you can play and then ignore. (Problem. I like Belle and Sebastian. So they’re out.)

So something calm maybe. Can’t be boring – that’s too distracting too. Ethereal perhaps – Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis maybe. (That Miles Davis link is worth clicking.)

I tried Gwyneth Herbert‘s album Between Me and the Wardrobe. (Since deleted from my iTunes account on the grounds of tedium.)

Morcheeba worked for a while, until I became conscious of how good they are.

Finally took inspiration from the book itself. And that’s got to be a good thing surely? Our hero, Jolly Macken, finds himself sitting with a nun listening to Mendelssohn‘s Violin Concerto in E Minor. It works for them. And it worked for me.

Progress was made today.

What do you listen to while you write?

Jackie Leven‘s songs and stories? (Wonderful) Fearne Cotton on Radio One? (I’ve been getting into that lately.) A baby wailing? The washing machine rocking? The bailiff at the door? The headboard of the bed next door banging. (They’re at it again.) The voice inside whispering give up. The kettle calling out to be refilled again and turned on?

If it’s none of the above – what is it for you?

No nuns were harmed during the writing of this book.

(And by the way – Blackwatertown is not all about cops and nuns sitting around listening to classical music – in fact hardly at all – there’ s treachery, intrigue, romance, mystery, scenery, sexuality, politics, religion, dollaghan and a fair bit of shooty shooty bang bang. So not all Mendelssohn.)

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18 Comments

Filed under My Writing

18 responses to “What do you listen to when you write?

  1. I like to write in silence.

    That way I’m not distracted.

  2. I write in a zone, and people can be working around me, but i don’t like music on; i have trained myself to tune out and write anywhere; now the question is, is it good? who knows; high regards

  3. TaylorGooderham

    I usually listen to something that fits the mood of what I’m writing. I usually zone out anyway, but it’s just something to play in the background.

    If you’re looking for something that you can play in the background, but not worry about liking, may I suggest elevator music? Perhaps some soft rock played when you’re on hold? Actually, silence doesn’t sound so bad.

  4. Music helps, but words distract, especially clever, complex words. So something instrumental (Miles is a good call) or in a language I don’t understand. My two standbys are Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and From A Summer To Another Summer (An Egypt To Another Egypt) by the Japanese band Maher Shalal Hash Baz.

  5. A choice of two – dead silence or a drop of classical playing softly in the background.

  6. When I read your title it never occurred to me you were talking about music. I listen to what’s going on inside my head and prefer as much silence as I can get from the external world.

  7. Being retired my hubby usually has the TV on … nuff sound for me whilst I tap the keyboard.

  8. I generally listen to the voices in my head, although lately they’ve decided to stop speaking to me.

  9. Silence (broken periodically by one or more of three dogs snoring at my feet).

  10. It depends. If I’m writing blog posts, the telly’s usually in the background and the radio on – alternative rock or ‘new music’ which is the mandate of our govt sponsored station Triple J. Then I’ve also been partial to God is an Astronaut, The Heavy and a few others introduced via an American friend who has access to Pandora. If I’m writing shorts, usually the quiet contemplation of garden sounds. As for the novel, I’ve not touched it for months. I think I need a country retreat to bang that one out. I get distracted by music. Then again, I have a close friend and awesome script writer who plays the same songs over . . .each to his own I guess.

  11. I listen to an online radio station that plays all kinds of music. Depending on the mood I am in, I choose a channel. Sometimes Indian classical, others ranging from jazz to easy listening with some country thrown in. When I am working on a difficult post, I prefer not to listen to any music.

  12. Are you sure no nuns were harmed? They look as if they’re fleeing some terrifying marine creature.
    I like complete silence when I’m writing. Any music or chatter is completely distracting. I’m useless at multi-tasking.

  13. blackwatertown

    @ Tim – Right, good, I’ll try those.
    @ holessence – snoring dogs – I can see how that could work and generate a sense of well-being.
    @ Baino – God is an Astronaut – right, I’ll try that too. Your mate who plays the same songs over and over could be on to something.
    @ Maxi – a comforting drone could work as long as there wasn’t someone saying, c’mere and look at this.
    @ Nick, Rummuser, Cheerful, Grandad, Taylor, Polo & Sorrygnat – Silence is also what I have when I’m writing for this place – mainly because I think I’ll just sit down for a moment or two and bash it out. (Doesn’t necessarily work out like that.) I think it’s the more daunting length of the book that sends me seeking succour.
    Anyway – ta for the tips.

  14. Music, pleasant enough but inoffensive, blurring into the background? Let me introduce you to Ken Bruce on Radio 2, weekday mornings

  15. Reading or writing I need absolute silence… wait now, there is no such thing. We are surrounded by noise even if it is in our heads.

  16. Currently the sound of scratchy scrabbly rat claws ;) (It’s only a little one…I hope!) Sensibly accompanied by the DAB radio obligingly playing latest chart music at a high enough level of loudness to drown out said resident rodent activity. It is also obligatory that the mobiles should erupt in a fine chorus of strangled ringtones as soon as this Icewolf sits down to do serious PC time :) Most soothing of all however is the sweet sound of the kettle boiling happily!

  17. Kursy

    Well written article. Thanks

  18. Normally, I like quiet, but in the past, I’ve listened to instrumental video game music as I write. It’s entertaining and sometimes inspiring somehow. I don’t usually want any songs with words to distract me while I write, or I’ll start writing the lyrics down by accident.

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