Monday, September 13, 2010

Your Writing Environment: Sound

"The Color of Sound: Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar" by Gene O'neill
CD cover image by Tom M Franklin
I've been thinking about writing environments lately.  This could be because I don't really have a set writing environment -- well, to be honest, I do have a room that's supposed to be dedicated to my writing (it's even named after the main character in my I'm-Taking-This-Way-Too-Seriously novel).  The problem is, that room is way too messy, with books, boardgames, clothes and music all over the place.  Besides, I've found that I prefer typing on my laptop as opposed to a desktop keyboard...

Anyway, let's just say that I do most of my writing either in bed, on the couch or at the dining room table.

In Kiersten White's humorous "18 Easy Steps to Becomming a Writer" (found over at Chuck "How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack" Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents site) she writes the following:
Step Seven: Realize you need music. Spend the next hour finding the perfect "mood" music for what you want to write.
This tied in quite well with something I'd been giving some thought to lately.

When I'm doing my 40-hour a week werk gig I tend to have a steady stream of music playing through iTunes or Pandora.  My iTunes playlist is a diverse mix of 80s alternative/new wave, ambient/new age, acoustic fingerstyle guitar (including my copy of Gene's CD, of course), gregorian chant, classical, celtic, blues, (what my friend Jaime called) Loud, Fast Stuff, and some TV theme songs and Tom Lehrer thrown in for good measure).

When I'm writing, however, it's a different story altogether.  (Heh. Get it?)  When I'm working on Draft Zero it really needs to be silence.  No music or TV in the other room, no sounds other than maybe the white noise of a fan.  My mind is too frayed trying to stay quiet enough to listen to the voices in my head so I can write down their words.  If I need to drown out the TV in the other room, I have earbuds and a number of heard-so-many-times-I-can-almost-not-hear-them pieces of ancient acoustic music (renaissance lute and guitar) and some equally familiar recorded Hearts of Space  episodes.

When I'm editing (Draft One through Draft Okay-Send-This-Thing-Out), I'm okay with instrumentals -- new age/ambient music, acoustic fingerstyle guitar (hi, Gene-o!) and any one of a multitude of lesser-heard HOS episodes. I'm still trying to listen to the words as I say them in my head, so any music with its own words is in competition for my headspace and gets skipped over right away.

-- Tom

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  1. Tom-I also write my first draft in silence and I write anywhere I happen to have my MacBook--my favorite place is on the couch w/ the dogs next to me.

    For revising/editing, I'll listen mainly to New Age type stuff, but that's it. I've heard of some people having playlists for specific books, but I haven't felt the urge for sound yet while drafting. :)

  2. Hi, I'm new here. *waves* Nice to meet you.

    I can write in silence or in noise...but writing to music takes me deeper, by setting the mood I need for a scene. (if I'm about to write an intense action scene or a going-their-separate-ways or sad/death scene, it really helps me to get in that mood. And music takes me where I need to be.)

    The trick for me, after creating my playlist for the days scene, is to put it on repeat. The first time through I'm getting myself in the mood, maybe jotting down notes, so I it's okay to get distracted by the music/lyrics, in fact, that's the point. But by the time it hits the repeat, it starts to become background noise that subliminally keep you in the scene.
    I swear, some songs have a Pavlovian effect on me even when I hear them months/years later in the car or public; suddenly I have ideas floating and NEED to write a certain kind of scene. (the first Snow Patrol album and the soundtrack to Once both instantly have that effect on me)

    Wonderful blog you have here. :)

  3. Oh, and I write on my macbook...often in bed! I used to think I was a freak because my favorite writing place is in bed. (Husband always calls me 'bedridden' or 'bedbug' when I'm in the throes of writing) But believe it or not, there are a LOT of us.

  4. I once researched an article about listening to music while working, and I stumbled across an interesting study. Apparently, researchers determined that extroverts are more comfortable working with music playing, while introverts have a tougher time with the added stimulation. While introverts can learn to do it, it doesn't come naturally to them. I found that interesting, since I'm a pretty hardcore introvert who can't stand working without music in the background. I do remember having to "train" myself to do it though, so I suppose that makes sense.


  5. Hi Lola: Thanks for stopping by! Does the music you play have words or is it just instrumental music? Using music to lock you (and return you) into a scene is an interesting way of approaching this idea. I may have to try that some day.

    -- Tom

  6. Hi Tawana: I'll skew the study -- at my 9-5 day job I prefer to work with music of all kinds. My iTunes has a wide mix of musical genres, from Classical to (what an old friend refers to as ) Loud, Fast Stuff. I probably have, time-wise, an equal amount of instrumental music and music with sun lyrics.

    At home, where I do all of my writing, it's either silence or instrumental music that almost becomes background white noise. The multiple tracks of falling rain with wind chimes works as well (when I'm trying to drown out other sounds in the house).

    -- Tom