Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Writing, eating, watching, listening


My teacher always used to tell us that the exam room was a 'quiet room.'

Well, it's true, isn't it? This was in response to a class of pupils who, during valuable revision time at home, listened to AC/DC full blast, sang along with Kylie Minogue and watched re-runs of Falcon Crest out of the corner of his or her eye.
As much as I loved the old Radio One back in the day with Simon Bates, Gary Davis and Steve Wright in the afternoon (look, I can quote the whole schedule), I always had to turn it off when studying for my GCSEs and A Levels. When I needed to knuckle down to A Level French, the radio, I found, was a real distraction.

As a result, the writing room is always a quite room for me. No noise, no music, no chat, and no distractions - I need to think, please! And no eating either. Eating something makes me focus on the act of chewing and tasting. And Lord help us, if it's a bumper size bag of crisps or a family pack of Maltesers - think of those evil grams of fat sneaking their way into your system. The crumbs go all over the place anyway - they get stuck between the keys and the screen gets all greasy if you happen to touch it with an oily crisp finger - believe me, I have done in the office.

I do however confess to having the television on in the background, but the volume has to be turned down to a rather muted 'one' on the Sky handset. The programme will almost always be factual - it's usually a property show which is a repeat, or I might put on Sky News. But I can't watch or listen to MTV, or else I end up singing along.

And I can't have people talking to me either. However, it's very different in the office where there's constant to-ing and fro-ing of people, chat and calls and radio. I don't seem to have a problem when it comes to factual writing, but when fiction is calling me, I need silence.

I never understood people who could listen to music while writing. If anything, I would take a ten minute break and put on a tune on my Ipod and listen to it really loudly while feasting on a packet of cheese and onion crisps. Then it's back to the drawing board.

So are you a writing-snacker? Or not?

19 comments:

Poppy said...

I need absolute silence. I really need an empty house too, but i mostly don't get that. But i do need endless cups of tea. That's essential!

RosyT said...

Me, too. I love love love the silence of the early morning house, when everyone is asleep upstairs and the dogs are snoring gently on my feet. That's my writing time. A little light dawn chorus wafting in through the open door is all the noise I can handle. But then, as a kid I always studied at a desk in my own quiet bedroom.

Whereas my other half, who grew up doing his homework in front of the TV, writes on the sofa on Sunday afternoons with Radio 4 chatting away to him and me and the kids yelling and singing and arguing in and out all round him.

Sue Houghton said...

I need endless cups of strong coffee. Food I can do without in fact sometimes I forget to eat at all. Music and TV in the background doesn't bother me but I can't STAND people trying to engage me in conversation.

Julie P said...

Who says that men can't multitask when it suits them eh, RosyT! And it just proves their talent for selective hearing and focussing on what they are doing despite the chaos going on around them!

I think it's an advantage if you can train yourself to write anywhere, particularly if your writing time is severely limited. If you have to go into one space to write then you can lose the spontaneity and some precious writing opportunities, I feel.

I did an experiment for a week recently where I turned off the TV and radio and used the extra time I gained to write. My productivity definitely increased. I'm lucky in that I can write anywhere and I actually find it helps my creativity to write in a different location sometimes. But I guess the key is to find a place where you feel comfortable and as long as you write who cares where it's done?!

Julie xx

RosyT said...

My spin on it, Julie, is that men can ignore their kids and women can't!

Fionnuala Kearney said...

I need complete silence - even tiny background noises irritate me! Oh but I need food too...I try and avoid the crisps or snakcy things but now, having typed the word, I feel I need them. Want them. Bang goes the diet again.

Debs said...

I'm the opposite - having the TV on (you would be amazed at how many ideas I've had for features thanks to This Morning and Loose Women) or my ipod playing is a must for me to write. In fact I wrote an entire novel during the times I took my three children to an activity play centre - they played, I wrote - and you don't get much noiser than that. Another must for me to be productive is to have lots of snacks available on my desk, so that I don't have to keep going downstairs to the kitchen.

Roderic Vincent said...

Some men.

Roderic Vincent said...

That's my response to the comments above, not my favourite writiing snack.

Gillian McDade said...

Great variety of comments - so we have a real mixture here! :)

Geraldine Ryan said...

I hate noise! Car alarms, barking dogs, flaming pigeons. dripping taps, people clearing their throats and breathing - 'tis all one to me! I need tea but can't eat and type. How do people do that?

Gillian, hope you're feeling better after your recent health scare!

Caroline R said...

I prefer silence, but can cope with a bit of background noise or music if necessary. It's just people talking to me that really annoys me!

Paul Lamb said...

I must have silence. I must pretty much enter the world of my fiction, so I can't have anything around me that reminds of the real world I'm actually in. Thus I rise very early in the morning when the house is quiet and I can count on several hours of solitude. (Except for the puppy who wants to play!)

I don't generally eat anything, though that wouldn't interfere, but I almost always have a tall, frosty pitcher of iced tea. The caffeine gives my creative side a good jolt.

Roderic Vincent said...

"flaming pigeons"

I like this image, Geri. The skies above your house must be a battleground of colour.

Olivia Ryan said...

When I was working full-time and had 3 teenagers running around the house (plus a cat and a dog - oh and occasionally a husband too!), I spent my evenings writing despite all the mayhem going on around me and seemed to manage fine. But since being a full-time writer it seems like I've got more sensitive to noise interruption! I think it's just because I'm not so used to it any more. Husband talking at me while I'm mid-paragraph, dog next-door barking, my own cat crying for attention, a radio on in the next room - all make me lose the plot (literally)! Sometimes I do put music on, merely to blot out something like that dog barking!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Depends on how I'm feeling. Silence is usually necessary (and that includes telephones and doorbells!) but if I'm really excited about an idea or am brainstorming, I can do it on the train, in a cafe, wherever.

CarolineG said...

Having the television on! [Sharp intake of breath...] I need quiet too, for writing, although I like a bit of music on when I'm doing my other, paid work. I don't know if anyone else on here has discovered the wonderful Spotify..?
Tis a terrible distraction.
As for sustenance, I'd love a big chilled glass of sauvignon blanc for evening writing, but I end up writing even worse rubbish than usual...

Brian Keaney said...

To Julie P & Rosy T. My father (who failed his driving test at least twice) nevertheless maintained that women couldn't drive and that they couldn't cope with managerial jobs. Even as a child I could see that generalisations based on gender were stupid. How sad to see that they are still in fashion.

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