Kris turns on the radio in the kitchen and immediately my writing ceases. “Ahhhhh…” I groan. It’s NPR again — “noise pollution radio”.

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

“Do you know what it’s like every time you turn that on?” I say. “It’s like I’m building a wall in my head. It’s a carefully constructed wall with every brick in the right place. I’m trying to get the wall down on paper.” (By paper I mean into my text editor, but Kris understands.)

“And every time you turn on NPR — every time — that wall comes tumbling down and I have to start over.”

I’m always amazed when I read about people who can write while listening to non-music audio. Trent claims that he listens to podcasts while writing. How? I could never do that. It’d be like crossing the streams! (Which we all know would be bad, right?)

I can listen to music while writing. I can write in silence. But I cannot write in a situation where there’s discernible dialogue. No radio. No movies. No television. Not even coffee shop conversations. If I can hear speech, I want to parse it, and it prevents me from forming words of my own.

Which is why I’m now outside on the lawn; I’m attempting to rebuild the wall in my head.

5 Replies to “Crossing the Streams”

  1. jammer(six) says:

    I’ll go one step further and say that I have trouble focusing if the music has vocals. This is less a problem for writing than for reading. I just can’t seem to hear myself read if I’m also listening to words being sung.

  2. Paul J. says:

    I have a problem with that if the music is classical, jazz, “serious”. I can work to popular or American songbook vocals.

  3. Flexo says:

    I can shut out just about anything when I’m writing. It’s when I’m trying to sleep that any unexpected noise, no matter how inaudible to other people, bothers me.

  4. Matt Haughey says:

    Same here! When I was writing books regularly, I had a directory filled with well-worn jazz instrumental classics. Mostly stuff like Cannonball Adderly, stuff I’d heard a 100 times before and didn’t try to parse or pay much attention to while I worked.

    Anything with vocals, and I’m shot. I can’t write.

  5. It’s worse for me. Both dialogue and music distract me. It’s either silence or at worst some kind of white noise, as the undiscernible sound of crowd talk. Anything else and my productivity drops phenomenally.

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