For most of my professional career, I fell squarely into the Shaddap camp.
That’s not to say I can’t write with background noise. When I was a newspaper reporter, I was surrounded by it. I don’t think that environment prompted great writing, exactly, but I was prolific, and, once in a while, I’d come up with a story I was proud of. (I still love the articles I wrote about the nutty lady who kept pigs in her house.)
But the Shaddap writing philosophy was what I had always sought out.
Last summer, my employer moved me to a new building and, in it, a modern, glass-walled office. Working in what could be described as an aquarium would not have been my first choice – or even my 20th – but I adapted. (The installation of shades aided the adaptation process considerably.)
I even found ways to have fun in the new space; for example, I grew particularly fond of writing little witticisms on my glass door in marker:
Please do not feed the Editor. He is on a special diet of bacon and wine.
Glass, however, isn’t very good at muffling sound. And, unlike my days at the newspaper, I had difficulty tuning the noise out.
The noise I experienced in the newsroom, though loud, was always the same type of noise – a constant, dull, indistinct rumble of a half-dozen people simultaneously saying what sounded like “rhubarb” into telephones.
The noise in my new office was not constant, dull, or indistinct – so it could never quite morph into white noise. Every word I heard was crystal clear. What’s worse was that most of the words I was hearing were being uttered by teenagers:
“Ohmigod, did you hear what Cathy said to Kennedy when she saw her in the Math center?”
“Oh, my Gawd, I know!”
“She goes, she goes…”
“I know! I was, like, there! I was, like, ‘Oh, my Gawd!’”
Being distracted is one thing. Being distracted by this can cause physical pain.
So I converted. I am a Music-Playing-In-The-Background Writer!
My only challenge was figuring out a good musical fit.
The music needed to be bright and appealing, but couldn’t call too much attention to itself. So lyrics were out. I tried polka and bluegrass, but they were too toe-tappy. I discovered that Enya should not be listened to while either writing or operating heavy machinery. The Penguin Café Orchestra, a group I love, was a near miss; its songs kept me bright eyed, but prompted more humming than writing.
And then, success!
God bless the beautifully bombastic Beethoven. I’ve always been fond of the fellow, but never more than now. His tympani and brass cancels out every trace of teen angst loitering outside of my door. What’s more, his music keeps me more alert and energized. So that’s one less cup of coffee I need every day.
Thanks to this fine composer my new office suits me just fine.
So powerful was his impact, I now play my old Beethoven LPs when I write at home. The music hasn’t improved my productivity much there, but it has made me more polite. After all, when Beethoven is on, I no longer need to shout “Shaddap! I’m writing!” to my loved ones.
Do you listen to music when you write? If so, which artist gets your creative juices flowing? (Feel free to post YouTube links in the comments.)