Q is for Quiet

There is something you learn when you have a baby: if you keep the house perfectly quiet, hoping for longer naps, the slightest sound or breath of air will wake that child. Whereas if you maintain a normal hum of activity, maybe with some soft music or something playing in the background, you can practically vacuum under the crib and that baby will sleep through it.

Now, I don’t know if this applies to writing or not. I do know that when I used to work at home alone, in the beginning I would play lovely classical music, usually Mozart or something lively, to keep me humming along. And then when I got really busy with clients, I got out of the habit of playing music. And then my husband started working nights, so now the house is full of all sorts of distractions, interruptions, and different kinds of noise.

Oddly enough, my productivity is about the same. Which is to say, not as much as I’d like, but I am less distracted by the idea of being at home writing than I used to be. I was so in love with the idea for so long that I couldn’t get down to work. Now I just sit down and start typing, most days while still in my pajamas. I am doing less client work these days, on purpose, to have more time for that. We’ll see how that plays out with the pocketbook. It’s a gamble, to be sure.

Most days, I don’t even hear what my husband is saying. Right now, he is in the living room, reading aloud from the latest Growler magazine he just received. He wants me to be up on all the latest news, on which new tap rooms are opening up or what new seasonal beers are available. Truly, I want to know this. But once I start typing, about two or three paragraphs in, I no longer hear him. It’s not that I’m ignoring him – I’ve just kind of vacated into another conscious plane, or something {insert new age thoughts here}.

Very often, when he leaves to run errands, he is back before I even really realize he has left. Often, he will say something to me and I will murmur some response, and then shake my head a few minutes later and ask him, “What?” He is puzzled, “Didn’t you just answer me?” And I have to remind him, “No, not really.” He never remembers to get my attention first. By the time he’s finished his magazine and gone to do something else, I’ve lost track of him entirely.

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This could be considered amazing concentration, or a severe ADD symptom, or absent-mindedness. I don’t know. What I do know is that I cannot wait for quiet to sit down and write. So I write where I can, when I can. I’ve written in theaters, during other people’s readings, during my own readings. I’ve written during high school plays and at bars and cafes. On planes, in hotels and at interstate rest stops. Anywhere where my butt hits the chair, I can write. (Yes, that’s my office, after a big book purge.)

Most often, I write at night. I compose poems and parts of essays in my head, and only rarely do I get up to write them down. I should do that more often. It’s far better than the Facebook posts I used to compose, or the work emails I used to compose before that. Maybe I should be keeping that proverbial notebook near my bed.

I have found that it works best for me to just write it as it comes. I know that there is some truth to the idea of habit – a habit can be a powerful thing. You should cultivate good habits. You should cultivate a writing habit – a creative habit. This was actually the name of a class I took with my coach Rosanne Bane, Building the Creative Habit, and the purpose of her book, Around the Writer’s Block. Now, I’ve never had writer’s block (at least I don’t think), but why take any chances?

There are many collections of the rituals that famous writers performed before they sat down to write. My writing coach thought ritual might have some value for me. It would probably serve to calm my thoughts. There is, of course, some value in routine. Hemingway always wrote standing up. (I’ve been to his Key West house – his writing room contained two large tables, one with the typewriter and one bare. He would clip his pages apart and lay them on the work table, jostling them around for the best effect.) Joyce always wrote lying down on his stomach (with crayons). Many writers required certain types of desks, certain pre-writing rituals (picking fleas off your dog, anyone?) or certain things to be placed near them (rotting apples!), or with only certain writing instruments.

I have found that it can be inspiring to look at where other writers work. I love to tour houses all over the country. So far, I’ve only been to Hemingway’s, but I have a long list to get to. Of course, that is after I finish what I’m working on now. What type of writing environment works best for you? Do you like it quiet? Can you write in a coffee shop? Do you like to be right in the middle of things or tucked away in the attic? I’d love to hear how people write!

3 thoughts on “Q is for Quiet”

  1. It’s always amazing to me to hear what works for other writers. I find that anything with words is horribly distracting, so I couldn’t write in a theatre like you. Please teach me this talent! Right now I’m actually listening to Rainy Mood (http://www.rainymood.com) – it’s so helpful! Sometimes I also listen to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. #nerd

    1. Oh Anna! I don’t mean that I write for protracted periods in theaters and other public places. Just that I write when I can. Like while waiting for the movie to start or during intermission, if something strikes me. Just a quick poem or the start of an essay. I’ve written on just about anything paper – matchbooks, bank envelopes, candy wrappers. I always keep a little notebook in my purse now. But for sessions when I really want to sit down and get into it, I really do like quiet. And no, I can’t listen to anything with words, either, if I’m butt in chair (especially if I’m working on an article). I sometimes listen to Irish music now – the Celtic singing is beautiful and it doesn’t distract me because I don’t know what they’re saying.

  2. I prefer someplace a little bit busy with headphones so I can block out the noise and just listed to up-tempo classical music (movies scores are a favorite). But I can make it work just about anywhere. I often write in coffee shops and other such places.

    I’ve been known to write on buses (and miss my stop!), planes, trains, even jotting notes on napkins at stoplights. I used to write every chance I got, including class change back in school, so I learned not to be distracted by anything.

    I do the same thing you do with my husband. He’s say something, I’ll answer, then look up and ask him what we both just said. It’s good to know I’m not alone in that.

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