It’s not uncommon for me to chat with other writers and have the conversation steer toward this question:
What do you listen to when you write?
Even some writers I didn’t expect to lose themselves in the question have a playlist on hand — sometimes with a link to Spotify. (Leaving me to wonder if it’s something they saw others do, so they decided to give it a try…or maybe it was something done at the request of an agent: “Spotify playlists are big right now. Come up with something you feel defines your novel in music.“)
Enjoy the Silence
You know I love silence if you read more than a handful of entries, here.
My ideal writing session is, at most, accompanied by the sound of the air conditioner or heater.
This poem sums up my favorite writing times:
4:17 a.m. I stop writing when I hear a creak in the kitchen, thinking my wife may have risen as early as me today, but no further sounds come from that side of the apartment. (Were I superstitious, I'd chalk it up to ghosts.) I sit and listen for a moment, to a baseboard shift, and something outside the front door pop in the breeze. Sometimes a single plate vibrates in a kitchen cabinet, driving me mad for days until I find it. This time of the year, when the heat comes and all the doors are loose in their frames, a vibration expands and contracts in the walls, as though the apartment were breathing. It's then that I'm aware of my own breathing-- The slight rasp from a decent-enough night's sleep that could have gone on a few more hours. But this is when I write: when only the apartment is awake -- its bones having settled through the night like my own, just long enough to rest before the sun rises and a new day begins. The vibrating in the walls stops as the room takes a breath and the air conditioner grunts and exhales. It mutes all the soft sounds of the apartment heard only in the early dark of morning. I pull my shoulders back, creaking for a moment like the kitchen, and then I lose myself again to the sound of typing...
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But I do listen to things other than silence…
The Ambient March
I’ve mentioned this ambient track before.
I made it one evening while dozing on the couch after dinner.
The fan was whirring and the dishwasher was slapping its cadence.
It’s a sound I like so much that I made a 30-minute sound file out of it!
What I love about it: when I can’t write in silence, this blocks out the world. That it’s 30 minutes and also works like a timer is an added bonus by design.
Lately, Neon Hotel’s Means of Knowing has been the thing I listen to when I can’t write in silence, but want to block out the world.
Mellow droning that hits the spot. (Although, I’ll confess: the organ/keyboard thing that creeps into the background of “Lift” isn’t my thing.)
Drop that from the playlist, and you have a perfect background album.
The Current Book
Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 (“Death and the Maiden”) plays a part in my current work in progress.
I don’t listen to it much while writing, but if you go to the 23:37 mark and listen until roughly the 25:00 mark…an important scene early in the story plays out as the main character hears the work for her first time.
Not as Much Music These Days
There was a time in my life — like many people when they are younger — that I’d say music partially defined me. Or, perhaps a more accurate description would be that in music, I found sounds I felt an almost symbiotic relationship to.
These days, I rarely listen to music. When I drive, I prefer silence. When I write, I prefer silence. In most things I do, I prefer silence.
Unfortunately, the world is not a silent place; in fact, it seems louder all the time.
And so…when the world warbles its cacophony, I respond with the sound of a dishwasher and fan…or melodic droning that keeps the world on the farthest side of my thoughts.
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Neon Sign photo: Mohammad Metri.
Violin photo: Jordan Mixson.