I Stopped Listening to Music When Writing
For as long as I know, putting on headphones is a gesture of shutting out the world.
It’s my way of creating a safe space, whether I’m in my home or in public. I could be in a crowd and wearing the pair of in-ear headphones would cancel out the noise, making me feel like there is only me and my thoughts. Ideas seem to flow faster when I’m listening to music. The rhythm inspires the mood I’m trying to convey, and the lyrics inspires the character I portray.
Naturally I would write with music. It has been an essential part of my workflow. I love it when I enter a flow state. The music fades into the background and nothing else matters. It’s just the keyboard, my words, and I.
Except that it can take some time for me to enter that state. I would be distracted by the songs playing, even when they are chosen because they fit the mood of my writing. Sometimes it’s a struggle to find the perfect playlist. After realizing I’m spending too much time browsing, I find myself going back to the handful of songs I keep on repeating. The boredom they evoke would force me into working on my writing, and that’s not ideal.
My writing time is precious, and I’m wasting it on the hunt for good songs.
So when not turn off the music all together. Recently, I have been doing something different. When I’m writing, I stopped wearing headphones at all.
Multitasking isn’t always synonym to efficiency.
I listen to podcasts or audiobooks while drawing, but that’s another matter. I’m sure some people can juggle twelve tasks at the same time, but my mind refuses to cooperate no matter how I tried.
The music I listen to usually have lyrics, and they are a natural distraction. Even when the lyric is fitting for the scene I’m working on, I still need to spare a part of my brain power to unpack that information. I could use that energy on my writing.
It’s easier to enter the flow state when you’re not fighting with yourself. In the flow state, I tune out the song. The time it takes for me to enter that state is wasted time. I don’t need songs as so they can become background noises.
The challenge of no music is the threat of boredom. Especially when the only sounds in my head is the whirling A/C and the occasional traffic outside my window. Not as bad as the neighbor blasting hip-hop music, which only happens at night.
I tolerate my share of noises while working. But sometimes there’s a guy with a leaf-blower, right under my window.
White noises is nice when the other option is noise.
Writers type away on their laptop in the coffee shop, that’s the stereotypical image. There must be a study somewhere that proves the white noise helps with efficiency. I don’t often have access to a good public workspace. A white noise app will have to do.
I’ve said all these but it doesn’t mean you should never listen to music. Life without music would bore me out of my minds.
I make playlists on Spotify to suit each work-in-progress, titled by the book titles. When I’m not writing, I’m still listening. I listen on the way to work, to school, or simply when I’m bore with a mundane task at hand.
I add to the playlist each time I hear a fitting song. Naturally, there are some epic songs for the epic moments I dream up. Battle sequences, big reveals. There are also corresponding songs for the quiet, character moments.
I listen to the playlist in order whenever I want to feel the mood for that fiction project. It gets me into the mood for brainstorming. I can record the ideas in my notes.
Every once in a while, I would go through the playlist, examine whether the song fits the novel or if I simply added it because it sounds nice. I would remove or rearrange the songs if needed.
This is my way of staying focused on the project at hand. By deciding when to listen to music and when not to, I give myself options.
This is one way I try to self-control when it comes to writing. Try it out if you want.
© Aurelia Wong 2020