a quiet place to write

Henry Melton - 1968

I’ve been a writer for… a long time, many decades. One thing I’ve found indispensable is a quiet place—some place where I can hear my own thoughts.

For me, this is difficult.  My hearing is sensitive. I pick up conversations from a distance.  If I can’t hear something you’re saying, it’s only because there are distracting noises that blur the words.  In a crowd it’s almost unbearable.

At home, especially all those years with children, TV shows, and now my wife’s zoom sessions as she helps our grandson through his remote school work or holds meetings with her organizations, it is nearly impossible to listen to my characters as they come alive at the interface between my fingertips and the keyboard.

I’ve found several refuges.

At one time, I had a place in the garage where I could work on my first book, a computer software project.  That lasted until I was told, very seriously, that it was important that my kids could always have access to me and that I shouldn’t lock myself behind a closed door.

While I agreed with the sentiment, it made my writing much more difficult.

I made it work with those quiet times that sometimes occur, and working at odd hours.

Jeep at a roadside park

For several years, I got in the habit on weekends of getting in my Jeep with my most portable device (an M100, a Newton, etc.) and driving the Texas Hill Country.  Road noise was a comfortable blank slate for scenes and story ideas to develop, and then I could pull off at a Dairy Queen or a roadside picnic table (I had a list of favorites) and note down what had bubbled up from my subconscious.  Several of my novels were shaped and filled out on the road.

Another refuge was the RV parked in the back yard.  That was my most ideal writing room, with its own refrigerator and a reasonably comfortable bench seat at the table, where I could plug in my laptop and write.

But… all things pass, and that RV has now begun to crumble away and isn’t a healthy place to sit anymore.

Now, I do have an office at home.  However, this room was designed to be an open dining room, I think.  There is no door that can be closed.  There is a wide open window aimed at the place where the TV blares away disturbing cop shows.  It is not isolated, no matter what draperies I put up.

Road trips, especially now, are few and far between, and not places conducive to writing.

So, I take refuge where I can.  Sometimes I’ll sit out in the yard, or out in the barn, but those aren’t comfortable.

Writing in the Barn

Still, I make do with what isolation I can create.  Lately, the combination of Airpod Pros with noise cancellation linked to my Apple Watch playing music has helped considerably.

Apple Watch and Airpods

I have to playlists that work best.  One is a collection of instrumental music, classical and others.  Music with lyrics grab the word recognition part of my brain away from the text and I stall out.

Still instrumentals have defects.  Among the 481 instrumental songs I have collected are quite a number of instrumental-only versions of popular songs that I still recognize and fill in the missing words.  Distracting.

Lately, my most productive playlist is to play anime songs.  I don’t know Japanese, so I can enjoy the cheerful, playful songs and all the words are just embellishment, not word-hijacking lyrics.

Maybe someday, I’ll have a nice isolated office where I can close out the outside world and never be distracted by screaming TV actors or my wife’s video conferences, but until then, I’ll make do with plugs in my ears.