January 6, 2011

Writing Like Crazy: The Art of Noise

How is your concentration when you're in a noisy room? Can you read? Can you write?

It used to be that I could read in the living room while the television was on and a sewing circle gabbed away a mile a minute, and not miss a beat. Tuning out annoyances was a learned skill when I was a kid--ignoring the bullies on the bus helped hone that skill at an early age. Nowadays though, I can get sucked out of my reading if so much as a car drives by outside. I dunno, maybe I just need more beta-carotene or probiotics or something.

I bring this up only because noise has a nasty habit of messing with my writing too. Any writing, really. I learned this the hard way over the holidays. My mind was basically fried after the first storm-related power outage on Boxing Day, and all of the stress entailed with a domino effect of crap that followed. I sent out a submission on December 30th, my final submission of 2010, while a boisterous conversation carried on next to me and some kind of construction went on the floor above. Sufficed to say my concentration was a bit frazzled at that moment, and when I got the unsettling suspicion on January 2nd that I'd addressed the editor by the wrong friggin' name and without internet at home through which to double check, I was forced to wait until the 4th to get online.

Fortunately, I did use the correct name--unfortunately still got rejected--but the seeds of doubt were planted because my mind wasn't keenly focused on the matter at hand when I was going about it. And that was because of noise.

Back in September I sent out a submission and because of hindered concentration neglected to attach the document to the e-mail. I felt like a schmuck when I realized that amateur-hour flub. Thankfully I didn't finish off the year with another such goof. Though, 2011 is just getting started and it's not like I'm immune to noise again.

So, how do you work when in a noisy environment? Got any tips?


  1. I live in the middle of the city. Sorry, but the only way to tune that shit out is to become desensitized to it altogether. That and I've listen to Black Sabbath on blast-speaker volume since I was 16. I'm pretty sure I can Olympic ice skate to that shit now.

  2. Yeah, you're right on that. Living in a small town kind of makes you more attune to ambient noise, especially when it ain't the birds chirping in the morning.

  3. Honestly, I get the same issue but not with background movies or dvd television series, just screaming kids or the sound of music or the vent running above my head. I find the best thing to do is pick up a supply of ear plugs. Those little orange things filter out the annoying high-pitched sounds that irritate me and cause loss of concentration resulting in headaches and migraines. Ear plugs man. You'll still hear sounds, just not the ones you're sensitive to.

  4. Try building one of those sound-proof bubbles maybe - just make sure it has ventilation holes...

    I have the same problem when I'm either reading or writing and I just try to tune it out - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't - if you're really on a roll though (when writing I mean), that usually works.

    Either way, good luck.

    - Aaron

  5. Brandon - Yeah, earplugs would probably be the way to go. And I'll bet there's an ancient pair still in the pack that my dad bought ages ago for using the chainsaw--I inherited so much junk from the old man, there's probably a Necronicon.

    Aaron - Jake Gyllenhaal stole mine. Damned Bubble Boy!