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What Do You Listen to While You Write/Read?

CB055846For me, nothing beats complete silence while writing or reading. I used to be able to listen to music, any kind of music while I wrote. But then, I could only listen to instrumental music. But now it’s impossible. Floorboards creaking, doors clicking, people chattering, pens scraping, keyboard tapping—everything rattles me.  So for the past year I’ve been wearing heavy-duty earphones that considerably lowers decibels. Unfortunately, after about an hour or so, the pressure on the ears becomes too much to bear. I was talking to Eugene Lim and Gary Lutz about this a few days ago and Lim mentioned that he listens to a recording of white noise. I searched for something like this online and found this site Simply Noise where they offer a free looping recording of white noise. You can even set it to oscillate in volume. They also have free downloads of  “pink” and “brown/red” noise, as well as a recording of a thunderstorm.

So what do you like to listen to while you write and/or read, if anything? And where do you go for silence?

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

28 thoughts on “What Do You Listen to While You Write/Read?

  1. For some reason, the music of Mendelssohn or Hadyn seems to get my creative wheels turning at a good clip…not sure why. I’ve tried other classical composers of different eras and styles to no avail. Perhaps it is because Mendelssohn and Haydn aren’t considered to be “groundbreaking” or overtly adventurous composers, albeit popular, facile, and expert. Perhaps they were the late 18th and early 19th Century equivalents of Muzak? No clue. I’m a playwright, but do write short fiction every so often – not that this should cause me to lean towards silence or sound as I write…but I know for a fact that writing done during Mendelssohn’s 1st Piano Concerto or any of Hadyn’s late “London” symphonies has turned out well, and my spirits felt buoyed.

    But everyone’s different…

  2. I would probably like that white noise thing at least while reading. Usually I’ll go turn a fan on, like the exhaust fan in the bathroom is close enough.

    I can write to John Cage and Brian Eno stuff, stuff that can sit far enough in the background so its not screaming at me to pay attention to it. Although white noise would work for me with writing as well probably.

    1. It’s funny, on my way to total silence or white noise, ambient stuff used to work for me too. Unfortunately, if it modulates too much (and too much can often be somewhat indiscernible) it’ll be disruptive. I think one day I’m going to have to be in a soundproofed box.

  3. I dig Brian Eno, but the 70s glam records – probably not the best writing music, but for editing, I dig it. I either listen to nothing or instrumental music at low volume – either non-threatening jazz (Andrew Hill, early-mid Coltrane) or something like Battles or Pelican or Red Sparrowes.

    1. I love everything here that you mentioned, especially Coltrane, even the late stuff. But I can’t listen to it while writing or reading, at least not anymore. It’s a drag.

    2. yeah, I listen to a decent amount of miles and medeski, martin, and wood.

      also, some of the latter. speaking of, i actually really need to get me some red sparrows. see also, along similar lines: my mention of ISIS.

  4. i almost always listen to music when i write. it can be anything, but then again it can’t. meaning that some things seem to gel nicely with what i’m trying to work on at the time. weird little sonic convergences or something. one recent one was while finishing this novella i was working on i was listening to Sebastien Grainger’s album Sebastien Grainger & the Mountains. it seemed to really fit nicely into what i was writing. when i find the right combo like that i can get into a real roll with my writing.

  5. reading? well, I can sometimes hear me speaking the words – but no, no music. no anything.

    writing? hell yeah music. Put ITunes on shuffle. Mostly: Morrissey, The National, Radiohead, The Dears

        1. i’m in southern oregon. all sorts of cool people are down there in san diego!

          i’ve never seen them, but i’ve been listening to them since their first album. and i totally stop into nat’s blog occasionally. yeah, i love their stuff and no one else has seemed to hear of them.

  6. Depending on how it is going, I sometimes prefer silence but often listen to music that I can, to some degree, “tune out.” Stuff like The National, TV on the Radio, My Morning Jacket, jazz. A decent amount of ISIS.

    1. I love this stuff too (don’t know Isis yet). If it’s on though, my head is swirling along with every little nuance, inflection, phrase, whatever. You’re lucky man.

    1. that’s a great story!

      when i saw them a few years ago it was the closest thing i’ve ever had to a religious experience. as they closed the show they said “you guys are a great crowd, any of you want to follow us up to vancouver?” and i very nearly did, haha.

  7. I can’t listen to anything while I read – my best reading environment is on the train, with just enough ambient noise. Same thing if I’m writing a first draft (with the exception of the Morphine-inspired novel I’m working on, when I listen exclusively to that band to inspire my fiction). But when I’m revising I can listen to pretty much anything.

    1. i’m listening to the new 2-disc set, At Your Service right now. i love Morphine, i was wondering this morning on my way into work if there were other writers out there who dug them, they are very conducive to writing in my mind!

  8. Hi… found your post when searching for images. I just wrote a blog asking a similar question. For me, anything with lyrics is distracting. But I can still listening to (some) instrumental music, which blanks out OTHER distractions. But since I’m a musician, if the music carries me into a “jamming with it in my head” mode, it’s counter productive, since it’s another kind of distraction. Sometimes silence works for me, but not usually.

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