I Can’t Write with Surround Sound

If you’re a parent, I’ll bet you can’t count the number of times you’ve told your youngsters to turn off the television, or the computer, or the iPod, and do their homework. And they’ve likely responded with a withering, “I am doing my homework.” Despite our skepticism, if the assignments are completed we don’t argue too strenuously.

There’s an ongoing conversation among writers about the value of music versus silence for effective writing. I’m sure you have an opinion. So does New York Times Bestselling novelist A.J. Hartley. In his post, “The Writer as Multi-tasker” on the Magical Words blog, he advocates silence.

“The short version,” he says, “is that decent productivity and multitasking don’t go together… Turn the music off… Turn the e-mail alerts off… Do one thing at once… Stay on task… You can work with music on? Good for you. Imagine how much more you’ll get done and how much better your work will be when you turn it off…  Writing is about you and the words. Everything else is distraction.”

In commenting on the post Daniel R. Davis says, “Oh, believe me, I can’t listen to music with lyrics at all while writing or trying to focus on anything else. I’m too much of a showboating singer not to sing along, which is incredibly distracting.  So I can relate as far as that goes. However, I’ve found that good, low volume instrumental music through headphones has the same effect on me as a music score in a film does, staying at that subconscious level where it evokes emotion without becoming distracting and that emotion helps to drive the scene forward.”

Personally, most of my writing is done in silence. I’m not able to concentrate in a coffee shop full of people or with music playing in the background unless it’s an instrumental classic played so quietly I’m not consciously aware of it. And if I’m not aware of it I can’t see the point of having it on at all.

So, what’s your opinion? Do you need sound or silence while writing? And if sound, what kind?