Writing with Sound or Silence?

Have you ever worked in a construction zone? While still at your desk job?

Recently, in what used to be a conference room adjacent to my office, some new offices were framed and dry-walled into existence. At the same time that a power tool extravaganza was underway on the floor directly above me to finish off some other new spaces. And just down the hall a half dozen cubicles got expanded—by method of continual hammering.

Oddly, I didn’t find it difficult to concentrate in this environment. I say oddly, because I consider myself on the high maintenance end of noise sensitivity. My all time favorite time to write is early on a Saturday, before anyone else gets up.

Here’s my theory. Irregular but normal decibel noise—like people talking—can be much harder to ignore than loud, constant sound.

It got me thinking about the best environment in which to write. Total silence? Mechanical chaos? While enjoying public transportation? Or as a nature-lover? With music or without? And, if with, what kind of music? Vocal or instrumental? Soothing and in the background, or upfront and personal? Or does it just depend on the project? Or on your personality?

Julie Platt, an author at GradHacker in her blog A Work Soundtrack, says this:

I have a hard time working without music. No matter what grad school related task I am working on, it just feels strange to be doing it in silence. In a world where a pair of earbuds are as expected an accessory as a pair of pants, it’s clear that I’m not alone in my need to have music playing whenever I’m engaged in some serious cognitive activity.”

What??? I thought silence made for peaceful concentration. And I didn’t think my lack of earbuds was as unexpected as not wearing pants. Her comments left me feeling seriously and cognitively out of touch.

A variety of research has been conducted on the effects of music on learning. Just google “Mozart Effect” to learn more. So, maybe I am missing out on a serious, cognitive boost from music by stubbornly enjoying silence for writing?

I’ve owned an iphone for more than a year, but never put a note of music on the thing. Ten months ago, I even bought myself a higher end pair of ear buds. I’ve never used them.

But today that changes. I’m uploading music. (I’ve got loads of it. I just haven’t been using it for working.) And I reclaimed the ear buds from a certain family member.

I hope it will be a fun experiment. I’ll revisit it in a future post.

Meanwhile, what is your favorite environment for writing?

And if you are a fellow silence enthusiast who wants to join me in this experiment, you can check out Julie Platt’s good advice on getting the right kind of music for productivity at insidehighered.com.

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One thought on “Writing with Sound or Silence?

  1. During my MBA, I listened to HGTV and Food Network while doing my online classes and homework to have noise cause it was too quiet. The TV was in another room. My sister for her MBA did listen to classical music while she studied. We both succeeded about the same level for our graduate programs at two different universities at two different periods in time.

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