Friday, February 20, 2015

The Sounds of Silence

Simon and Garfunkel’s famous song, “Sounds of Silence,” sort of says it all. What role does silence play in your daily writing? In today’s maddening world, silence is often a precious commodity. Noise is all around us. Sometimes, it’s white noise that fills the background with steady soothing sounds like the whirr of a furnace motor on a cold day. At other times the sounds can be deafening like the sound of a T.V. in the den. Whatever sort of sounds you live with, you may find that the amount and volume can seriously affect your writing.

Younger people—those under 30—have grown up with lots of sounds all day long. Many do several things at the same time—listening to music on a set of earbuds, texting on a cell phone, watching a video on their computer, all while doing homework or work-related tasks. If they write, they carry on multitasking while writing, and their writing suffers because of it.

Highly successful writers surround themselves with silence if they can afford to. Some purchase  a house in the country and set up a study, often separate from the house, itself, in which to work.
Like many other writers of his day, playwright Eugene O’Neill need absolute quiet to work. He built a house on his ranch in California that had a study surrounded and cushioned by three empty rooms. It kept out all extraneous noise. And back then, O’Neill didn’t have the Internet and Email to distract him. Can you imagine how much more you can get finish if you banned all interruptions. But realistically, that may not be entirely possible.

For more writers, building a reclusive study away from their main residence is just a pipe dream. Most have to contend with disturbances from their spouses and children and perhaps from the family pet. Having your pet cat jump up on your lap may sound cozy, but it’s downright annoying when you’re writing a particularly difficult passage.

So what can you do to obtain silence in your writing workplace? For one thing, take a serious look at where you do your writing. If you’re writing at the kitchen or dining room table, then surely you’ll be hounded by distractions. For some writers who live in apartments, that may be the only place they can write.

Try to find a secluded place within your home in which to do your work—even if you write on a laptop. Using a laptop makes the whole process more portable, so you may be tempted to carry it to another location in the house that’s perhaps not as quiet.

Write when others aren’t around. Do your writing in the morning or late evening when everyone else is asleep. Or do it during the day when your spouse is at work and your kids are in school. It’s amazing how much easier it is to concentrate without continual distractions.

Set up a writing corner in a room in your home. This could be in a house, condo, or apartment. By doing so, you’ll have a place you can return to every day. It also allows you to stop writing and pick up where you left off the next day without having to pack everything up because dinner needs to be on the table.

During the warmer months, depending on where you live, you may want to take your laptop outdoors and write on the patio or perhaps take a ride to a nearby park and write on a picnic table, as long as there aren’t crowds of people around. The sounds of nature are particularly soothing, and the fresh air will help stimulate your mind.

Above all, learn to control distractions. Turn off Email announcements. Put your phone on an answering machine or voice mail. Refrain from watching T.V. or listening to music while you work. Encourage friends to call in your off hours. Tell them when you’ll be working and ask them to avoid calling you during that time. And gather your family for a meeting and politely explain to them that when you’re working, they should respect that and do their best not to disturb you. Studies have shown that even though people multitask, it’s seldom successful and whatever they’re working on suffers.

Yes, silence is golden. But the soothing ticking of a clock, for instance, gives a rhythm to background noise that can be quite soothing. So sit back and write and listen to your furnace hum and your clock tick.                                               


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