Just Sit Down, and Music, White Noise, or Silence?

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* On Understanding Others, and Characters
* Two Excellent Posts
* Just Sit Down
* Music, White Noise, or Silence?
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“In the end it is important to remember you cannot become what you need to be by remaining what you are.” Max De Pree (from the signature in DT’s email)

On Understanding Others, and Characters

As a response to Dr. Mardy Grothe’s most recent post (see Of Interest), this thought sprang to mind:

“You can never understand another human being, and you can never ‘walk a mile’ in his shoes. You can view the world only from your own perspective.

“The closest you can come to understanding another is to walk alongside him and trust him as he lives and conveys his own authentic life. But the key to understanding is to remain silent yourself.”

Or as Francis Bacon put it (Thanks, Mardy, and happy birthday!) in Norum Organtum (1620),

“The human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.”

Of course, this lends itself wonderfully to writing (characters) into the dark.

Two Excellent Posts

I had a great day yesterday. First, a writer emailed to ask me some excellent questions. That became the post that will appear in this space tomorrow, Friday, May 3.

And then another writer left a really great comment. And that became the post for Saturday, May 4.

If you have questions about writing or want to leave a comment, please do so. Many others probably have the same questions or a similar comment but not the courage to ask or post it. Help me spread the wealth.

I’ll never use your name in a post except by your permission.

Just Sit Down

I received a nice email a few days ago from DT, a writer and devoted follower of the Journal. He said he “had a feeling” a character wanted to share, so he sat down and wrote 1855 words in an hour and a half. How cool is that?

That was on a short story that he also suspects will be part of a novel. But the point is, He Sat Down and Wrote It. All your idea will come to nada if you omit that necessary step.

It’s easy to let those little whispers pass, either because you feel they’re unimportant or, more likely, because you believe you will remember them later. I advise against that.

As a writer of fiction, you are in service to your characters.

When they offer you something on a platter, sit down and write it. You can never know where that simple act of sitting down will take you. (Again, be sure to see the upcoming posts on May 3 and 4.)

If you want an example from your own life, consider those times when you’ve eagerly climbed into your friend’s or loved one’s car at his or her urging because s/he wants to take you someplace exciting.

As s/he backs out of the driveway, you don’t have a clue where you’re going or even how long it will take to get there. But the excitement starts early and builds through the whole trip, doesn’t it?

Because you trust the friend or loved one who’s in the driver’s seat, that feeling is exhilaration. It’s a close cousin of fear, but it’s wonderful instead of terrifying.

In other words, it’s the same thing as writing into the dark when you trust your characters. Which is why I so strongly recommend trying it.

Music, White Noise, or Silence?

Near the end of his email, DT also wrote “I have to say loud music does an excellent job tuning everything out including my conscious mind.”

That caused me to wonder, which of these do you prefer as a writer while you’re writing?

  • Listening to music (loud or otherwise)
  • White (background) noise?
  • Some other repetitive sound or noise?
  • Or silence?

And also, which is more conducive to your writing?

  • Solitude (so a space of your own, in my case the Hovel, with any of the above)? Or
  • With others around (your living room or home office, the kitchen table, a coffee shop, etc.)?

I suppose this is a survey of sorts, but I really am interested if only to satisfy my curiosity. (grin) And there are no wrong answers. Whatever works for you is right, with “works” defined as “putting new words on the page.”

Of course, I congratulated DT on the word count and his efforts to make WITD a reality for himself. But that last bit about loud music drowning-out the conscious, critical mind intrigued me. That was the catalyst for this post.

I can’t personally listen to music when I write, unless it’s quiet, classical music without lyrics (so essentially white noise). If I listen to the music I enjoy most, the lyrics distract me because I’m paying attention, wondering why the songwriter used this word instead of that one, etc.

In my response to DT, I almost wrote that I prefer solitude and silence when I’m writing, but that isn’t really true.

The whole time I’m in the Hovel, a large box fan sits in an open window, blowing out. I turn it up to either medium or high and it serves as an exhaust fan.

Sometimes I also have an air purifier running to clear dust from the air. (The Hovel is an adobe building.)

And in the afternoons, a large portable swamp cooler (and fan) blows directly on me to keep the temperature bearable (upper 70s, low 80s).

Of course, I don’t notice the sound of any of those machines while I’m writing, so I suppose I prefer white noise.

So how about you? Please leave a comment or email me (harveystanbrough@gmail.com) to share your preference, and your reasoning if you want.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Understanding Others I urge you to subscribe if you haven’t already.

If you want to design your own covers, do yourself a favor and read Resource: Book Covers.

If you want to hire a pro to design excellent covers for low cost, check out Get Covers. I’ve added this link to my Quick Links in the sidebar at harveystanbrough.com.

The Numbers

The Journal………………………………1030

Writing of (tentative title)

Day 1…… XXXX words. To date…… XXXXX

Fiction for May…………………….….… XXXXX
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 303785
Fiction since October 1………………… 606841
Nonfiction for May……………………… 1940
Nonfiction for 2024……………………… 156280
2024 consumable words……………… 460065

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 90
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing are lies, and they will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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18 thoughts on “Just Sit Down, and Music, White Noise, or Silence?”

  1. I’ve always been a fan of radio, thanks to growing up in an isolated part of the world. When I began traveling the real world, I had a portable short wave radio to listen to the BBC or Radio Canada International, or many others. (That was back in the 60s and 70s, mind you.) In the evenings, I’d bring out the radio in the middle of the desert or the bush or the arctic and would tune in requests for the various countries of my comrades while we drank coffee under cook-tent canvas or beneath the blazing Southern Cross. That Cross would show up at exactly 1820 hours each and every night, leaving us with plenty of time to dream silently before hitting the rack.

    With all that behind me, I now tune in old time radio. Sam Spade. Marlowe. Box 13. Others. I can’t stand Joe Friday. He takes me out of everything! But yes, it’s only background noise. I can write in silence, too, or a coffee shop, or anywhere, actually. Shutting it all out has thankfully never been a problem.

    Those desert days and nights remain with me to this day, as do many former trusted comrades that I miss dearly as I age. But those are stories for another time.

    Sorry to ramble.

    • Peter, thanks for all of that, including the ‘rambling.’ Slathering philosophy across the desert with friends has long been among my favorite pastimes.

  2. Just to note for everyone, (Harv, I know you have read) in On Writing that Stephen King listens to loud music.

    I wrote the first half of one long novel in mostly silence at home and the second half of it in a diner with loud rock music on earbuds to block out other people. Was trying that public thing and was enjoying endless coffee and steaks. So strange, I don’t think it matters. (Just sit…).

    Surprisingly, the tone throughout the book was unaffected, so to speak, as it depended on the characters reactions and the pacing. No author intrusion allowed…

    • Wonderful comment, Sebastian, and an excellent point: that the tone of the book depends “on the characters’ reactions and the pacing.” And no author intrusion allowed is always an excellent point.

  3. There was a time when I listened some music when I wrote. I stopped, because of the same reason you wrote: the lyrics always took my focus and it bothered me when I wrote something. I have friends who still do playlists for their every novel. I don’t. It is too much a bother, and the mood of the music makes an effect on the actual writing. I think it can do a favor, yes, but on the other hand, it can hold you back, too.

    Though sometimes, when there is too much noise when I sit down to write, I use ambient noises with an earphone, like ‘rain in the forest’, or ‘fire in the fireplace’, or something like that. It helps me keep my attention on my writing. But in most cases I don’t use anything.

  4. Hi Harvey. I had a question about the donation for the Journal. Do you mind if I make one-time payment of $36 for the whole year rather than donate $3 monthly? I always like to pay all at once if I can. 🙂

  5. It depends on the project I’m working on sometimes. Most of the time I write without any music but, like with a previous book based on the life of Sweyn Forkbeard, a King of Denmark and the first Viking King to conquer all of England, I listened to Nordic music with lyrics in Old Norse which I found helped a lot. Usually though I prefer silence (or as near to it as I can get).
    I write at my kitchen table or in my rocking chair in the living room, mainly at night, so I’m never alone. As long as people don’t distract me or interrupt (without good reason) I can work just fine.

    • I personally get so annoyed about “social engineering” that I won’t read it. But others probably will, so thanks for sharing.

      • It’s actually shows how it works in real word.
        A contributor joins open source project and for 2 years fixes bugs. People just think he’s just another developer tired with his daily job.
        Then he fixes one more bug and injects backdoor at the code. Some other people emulate huge interest to this bugfix.
        Code review is a boring thing, so current project owner gives this contributor rights to approve the changes. Backdoor code is now in main project base.
        Then this library is released and backdoor code appears on gazillion systems all around world.

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