Silence is golden.
That’s how the cliche goes, at least. And I’ve found that a lot of times, the statement checks out. It’s good to have periods where the serenity blocks out the noise of the day, allowing us to let our thoughts flow like a fountain. It’s not all the time that we can just bask in the glory of the moment.
Many writers will tell you certain quiet loneliness offers the most productive atmosphere. And I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. When you’re alone with your thoughts, you can focus entirely on the task at hand (my previous post addressed this, as well). You hopefully won’t have anything to block the flow of concentration.
But what if the quiet is too much? What if there were another way to get the job done?
I, like many people, have difficulties with attention. I find it hard to sit still and stick to what I’m trying to do. When I was in college, I often found that I needed to start my day’s studies fairly early on, as my attention would plummet.
You’ll hear people talk about the importance of studying in the library. The logic goes that because they are a quiet place away from the distractions of people you know and more recreational kinds of activities, that it’s more conducive to learning and retaining the information you need to pass your classes.
For a lot of people, yeah, it’s the best location for all of this. In fact, it’s probably said to say most people benefit from a trip to the library during their studies.
But it never worked for me. I would find myself looking around, not sticking to the work I had brought for myself. This was one of the reasons I flunked out the first time, the other major one being attendance.
When I get it another shot a few years later, I decided never to go to the library, at least not to study. Sometimes having too few distractions means too many distractions, and my house took its place.
But still, I had a difficult time getting into my work. That is before I figured out what to use as background music.
Now, I should stop and say that your results may vary. You might be someone who isn’t affected by the lack of noise and calming atmosphere of your college or local library. In this case, I envy you. But if you’re anything like me, it helps to have some sounds to work to.
What to pick though? Do you go with a nice, soothing instrumental mix on your favourite music-streaming app? Punk music to get you pumped up? I’ve read the baroque music is the style that generates productivity in workers, maybe a choir or orchestra might do the trick.
In short, whatever works. The point here isn’t, what do I prefer to listen to; the point is, “what will help me write, study, paint, whatever I’m trying to do?”
You might have to experiment. I have known people who can listen to the pop music they typically put on and have success with it. They’ve heard it enough that they won’t be distracted by something new and suddenly find themselves listening for some new hook or neat sound.
That’s the entire reason I found anything with talking in it to be my holy grail of background noise. When I listen to music, I can find myself overwhelmed by the tones and distracted by catchy lyrical hooks. But when it comes to talking radio or a television show I’ve seen a million times, the sounds blend into one another and become closer to static than anything else.
This is extremely conducive to boosting my attention. By having one thing to focus on, I find my mind is not so apt to wander around. Dialogue becomes a ball of noise that centres my attention on whatever I’m working on. I’m less likely to look around, wondering what that thing I’ve seen on my wall many times before is.
I can’t tell you why it is that podcasts, talk radio, and TV shows work best for me. They just do. And they may not work for you. That’s fine. The point is to find something that does, that benefits your productivity and being able to maintain attention on whatever you’re working on.
If it takes a few tries to discover what kind of background music is most suited for you, that’s fine. Some things take time, and the important thing is the goal: finding what works best to help you maintain focus. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it gets the job done.
Stephanie Knarr recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA from the Harrisburg, PA area. Her writing appears in Harrisburg’s local magazine, The Burg, and her work will soon appear in Unwinnable and Five:2: One. Her favourite drink is RC Cola, and her favourite band is probably Animal Collective.