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Sunday, February 26, 2012


Noisy Writing?

Noisy writing, courtesy of the washing machine.
Photo | Elizabeth King Humphrey
A washing machine.

That is the image that came to mind when I read the article "A New, Noisier Way of Writing" by Anand Giridharadas in The New York Times. The article details how isolated Jonathan Franzen must be to write. Giridharadas contends that image of writers is an old one, but that we find many disruptions these days and our culture has become much more fast paced in recent years.

That's where the washing machine came to mind. As the article makes its way around to other slow and deliberate writers (Walt Whitman and V.S. Naipaul), I wondered if these writers ever thought that their writing could be produced in cycles: first solitude, then a bit of noise and without interacting with their readers. (Giridharadas mentions Paulo Coelho, Teju Cole, and Salman Rushdie who take the opposite approach by tweeting and appear less isolationist.)

I agree that writing deserves some solitude. However, more importantly, I feel that you can create good writing within a spin cycle. Or a combination of these: A shushing wash and soak in between the thundering spin. A delicate wash some days will do just fine.

When I worked in a newsroom I embraced all the hustle and bustle you can imagine. You get used to it, adapting to the busiest of days and the slowest of hours. Because I am now so accustomed to distractions and noise (a car engine revs, my children's audiobook or music, the creaks of our old home...or even the washing machine going full throttle), there are times my writing craves the slight noise that reminds me of a sense or an idea.

Maybe this environment will assist me with my writing; maybe it will hinder it. I guess my readers will be the judge of that. Unfortunately, at this moment, I don't have an isolation tank to retire to with pen and paper in hand. So, I am all about noisy writing. 

In the end, I agree with Giridharadas that there is a place for those who work in solitude, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were a lot of us who don't.

How do you write best--in complete solitude or with noises? Do you think only the best writing can come from a writer who has a quiet place?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in a rather lively (read: noisy) home in Southeastern North Carolina.

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Blogger brenda said...

I am always fascinated on writer's writing requirements. I fellow writer I know can only write a specific card table, even takes it with her on writing getaways. Me, I can write in the bedroom, the kitchen, library, hotel lobbies, plans, and trains. I wrote a chunk of my book sitting in a bar on a cruise ship. I spent much of career on trading floors and got used to noise and learned to block it out. And I have kids.. Now, I am riding the query roller coaster. Great post..

11:08 AM  
Blogger Sabrina A. Fish said...

I was taught not to keep everything hush-hush in your house when you bring a new infant home, otherwise they will never sleep unless absolute quiet is had. I apply this same principle to writing. If I only ever write, study, or read when it is absolutely quiet, then I would never be able to handle even the sound of a car passing outside.

Like am like Brenda above, I can write, read, study, think anywhere. I grew up in a noisy house with lots of siblings. Not to say I don't like the quiet sometimes, I just don't need it.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i write with light jazz playing in the background. Sometimes Starbucks works too....but only if no crying babies.

Kellie Coates Gilbert

6:54 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

I believe there are millions of writers and myriad writing requirements. I was raised with a radio or TV playing in the backround. For me, total quiet is unnerving. I choose quiet jazz from cable TV or classical selections from Yahoo radio. Turned down low. Unless the dog takes a fit and barks at a stump or garbage bag! Then I up the volume.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie Romero said...

I can't write in complete silence. I am used to the sounds of my washing machine or dryer (my office is located in the basement), my children upstairs, the dog barking every-so-often, the heat kicking in, etc. Until I read this blog, I didn't think of these sounds as "comfort sounds" but I believe that is what they are.

12:08 PM  
Blogger LuAnn Schindler said...

What a great post, Elizabeth! Normally, I want background noise - music or the TV news - but lately, especially when on deadline - I write best when it's silent. Helps that we live in the country and the most noise I may hear is a tractor going past our house or the cows mooing. :)

9:57 AM  
Blogger Stephanie A. Hilliard said...

I prefer a mildly quiet area. I usually don't listen to music or the tv when I am trying to think. However, I am used to living in a busy household with a lot of interruptions from various kids, so human interaction is less disturbing when I am trying to write.

2:15 PM  

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