I’ve seen a couple of social media posts recently by fellow authors in which they’ve shared their latest playlists, the music they absolutely must listen to while they write.

I am in awe of these people.

I am incapable of listening to music when I am in writing mode. Even if it’s only instrumental, like soothing piano or orchestral music that I would normally have no problem listening to as background noise. Stick any music on while I’m hunched over my MacBook and be prepared for grumpiness, is all I’m saying. I can’t explain why, and perhaps there is a scientific answer for it in terms of left brain/right brain, or something like that – if someone knows, I’m all ears.

The weird thing is, I’ve discovered that I can pretty much write anywhere, as long as there’s no music. Cafes, where people are just chattering – fine. Airplanes or airports, where again there’s just chatting or the passing of many pairs of feet – no problem. But stick a bit of music on in any of those scenarios and my mind loses all focus on my words and my productivity is reduced to a big fat zero.

I was pondering this the other day when I was tucked up in my little armchair, the one that’s set aside in my flat almost exclusively for reading (see pic – the real, live, A. L. Brooks reading chair!). I’ve realised this need for quiet extends to my reading time too, and it seems to work exactly the same way as writing time. I can read on a Sunday afternoon when the little girl who lives next door is banging her drum or screeching with delight at what sounds like a tickle fest from one of her parents, and this does not faze me. I can cram myself onto a Tube train on the way to or from work with my trusty Kindle, surrounded by a myriad of conversations and disgruntlement, and never once feel myself drawn away from the story before me.

Now, music is one thing that I can’t have near me when writing or reading, but there are other things that fall into the must-be-close-to-hand essential category. Liquid refreshment is top of the list, be it a large glass of water, a decaff coffee or herbal tea, or – later in the day, obviously; I’m not a total lush – a glass of wine. Food not so much – all those crumbs and drips do seem to get in the way of the keyboard. But I can easily forget to eat when either writing or reading, and wonder why my stomach is rumbling and the room’s gone awfully dark as I suddenly resurface from my latest work and realise it’s past sundown and I’m starving.

Words have always done that for me. Let me escape, and drift away, and leave my regular world behind. And I think that’s true for any of us who love to read or write – we lose ourselves in the worlds we are reading or creating. They suck us in, and consume us, if we are lucky, or at least distract us for even a few moments. I can’t imagine a life without words, either my own or those of others. I’ve had words with me since I first learned to read, and they’re even more special to me now that I’m writing them too.

So, I will take joy in the word bubble I’ve created for myself, either at my desk as I frantically type, or in my lovely chair while I relax into someone else’s book.

Just don’t, whatever you do, add music to my bubble, okay?

One thought on “Silence is golden

  1. I’m exactly the same – I always wondered whether it was because my parent’s are both music teachers, so I’ve been brought up to listen for technical things within music. The bass line, whether someone’s voice quivers with vibrato, how big the string section is…

    I really struggle if I think I might get interrupted as well. I’ve recently started getting up early and shutting myself in our teeny study to write (or edit!) so the wife doesn’t disturb me (she is not an early riser!).


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