How To Cut Out Distraction While Writing: finding the right music


I’ve been a lot more productive with my writing the last couple of months. (I even finished my first book, which should be available on Amazon within the week. Yay!) There are a number of various possible reasons why I’ve been newly effective, but that’s beside today’s point.

Now, if you’re anything like me, and writing is currently more a part-time side project that doesn’t yet pay all the bills, you might find yourself scrounging for any and all available time to spend pursuing your writing dream.

If you’re even further like me and currently commuting to and from university/work, you’ve probably found that that train/bus ride is valuable writing time that you don’t want to waste.

But here comes the dilemma. How do you focus on your creative process when everyone else around can seem sooooooooo obnoxiously noisy?

Most of us can all block out a degree of background noise. That degree varies person-to-person. Usually the more accustomed we grow to a set of sounds, the more we are able to let them fade into the white noise of our subconscious and focus.

But then you get that one group of really chatty old deaf women. Or that group of teenagers all playing different songs from their phones without any headphones and somehow balancing a conversation over the top of the cacophony. Or that one creepy loner dude with imitation Beats over the top of his beanie, cranking something you’d never choose to listen to of your own volition, who always sits in your immediate vicinity.

And you’re like WHY???????????????????????????? Don’t they know I’m trying to change the world here?

So what do you do? You only really have a couple of options.

Option 1 – You could ask them to be quieter… but then you’re relying on the compassion and understanding of strangers who were being either ignorantly or intentionally obnoxious in the first place, and there’s all the chance that if they do quiet down, it’ll only be for a minute or two and then they’ll somehow get even louder.

Option 2 – You could get up and find a new spot on your train/bus… but on a bus, that might not make much of a difference, and on a train there’s no guarantee that there aren’t more obnoxiously noisy people in other carriages. Even when there are quiet carriages, you still have that one person eating the loudest packet of potato chips ever, and that pack of old deaf ladies trying to converse in what they erroneously think of as a whisper.

Option 3 – You could leave your bus or train altogether and wait for the next one instead… but, well all the same problems as option 2 but now you’re just wasting your own time trying to satisfy the need for the perfect quiet as well, when the key is probably not quiet at all. Which brings us to…

Option 4 – Use headphones. Listen to music. You need to create a sound bubble that you can block out effectively and focus. This, while not necessarily the answer for everyone, has really worked for me recently. But there’s a few things you need to consider when finding the right music to help you write.

The music you choose might not necessarily be your favourite music. If you’re enjoying the music so much that you’re completely distracted and you just find yourself typing out the words to the songs over and over instead of writing, well, you’re probably doing yourself a disservice. However, if you’re listening to old favourites, things you can listen to happily as background music, and not grow distracted, you’re on the right track.

So finding the right album or compiling the right playlist is key.

The album I’ve found most effective for me the last month, that some days I’ve listened to two or three times on repeat, has been The Classic Crime’s What Was Done: Volume I, because the album is largely comprised of acoustic remakes of songs from previous albums. (I actually helped fund the making of the album on Kickstarter last year because they’re one of my top Five bands of all time.) In fact, the points at which I usually catch myself falling out of my focus bubble are the couple of new acoustic songs thrown in there to even out the mix.

Because I already know almost all of the songs quite well, I find the familiarity comforting and the new acoustic versions relaxing and soothing to listen to. It’s complementary to my purpose in writing.

Of course, you may find that if you’re writing a thriller, you might want to get out the old Linkin Park album from ten or so years ago. If you’re writing a protagonist who’s a really angsty teenager, you might want to break out the Dashboard Confessional, Spill Canvas, Secondhand Serenade and My Chemical Romance. If you’re writing romance, you might want to play some Barry White or Michael Buble, depending on the audience you’re writing for. If you’re writing historical fiction, you might want some Mozart, Bach, Hadyn, Handel, Beethoven, Debussy… there’s a lot of options in any genre.

Because musical preference is such an individual thing, you need to find something complimentary to your taste, to the musical flavours that speak to you, yet that also compliments your writing. But the more familiar you are with the music, the more you should be able to effectively block it out.

Now, this might not always be the case. I know a lot of dancers who just can’t help moving to conscious or unconscious rhythms they love. I even have to catch myself starting to publically bop to beat in a few of The Classic Crime songs I’ve been listening to on repeat. If you find the music too catchy, that can potentially throw you out of your writing focus. Although, if the really catchy parts are sporadic enough, you might very well find it a welcomed reprieve.

Basically, to sum up, there are several different factors to consider while finding a music that you can write to, and it could easily a process of trial and error for you; finding that right album or that right mix that lets you balance the familiarity and enjoyment or your own headspace with the focus for whatever it is you might be writing or otherwise working on, but there’s no one answer for everyone.

Also, I highly recommend the Classic Crime and What Was Done: Volume I to all lovers of indie alt. pop rock out there.

QOTB: What’s your favourite album right now?


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