The Silent Writer

by limebirdvanessa

As a follow-up to my post The Introverted Writer, today I am going to talk about silence. Ssshhhh!

A couple of weeks ago I had the luxury of a whole day at home on my own, with nothing to do but write. When my partner arrived at the end of the day, he asked, “Have you been sitting there all day writing in silence, without the radio on or anything?”, and I replied, “Yes, and it was wonderful!”. I really do enjoy silence, beyond just needing a bit of quiet to concentrate on writing. I don’t need silence all the time, I can go to a loud music concert and love it, and when I’m in the car, or pottering in the kitchen, I always have the radio or some CDs on. But silence is where I go to recharge my batteries.

I consider myself to be fairly easygoing, but if anything is going to irritate me, it will generally be noise-related. I find very loud people difficult to be around, even if they are people who I like very much, I can only take them in small doses before I’m screaming inside. If there is any kind of repetitive noise going on, or an unidentifiable noise, it will really get to me. Or if people are making noise that I consider unnecessary, like tapping something, or fiddling with something that makes a noise, I can feel my stress levels rising. And why, oh why do people not have the same respect for silence in libraries that they used to? Hmm, maybe I’m not as easygoing as I like to think…

I grew up in London, and I do love the hustle and bustle of a busy city, but now I live in a quiet village and I really appreciate the silent moments. Sometimes I like to take a cup of coffee out back, just to sit for a while, and depending on the time of day, it can sometimes be very silent. And that silence is beautiful.

I know many people who can’t bear silence, they always have to have some kind of noise going on. My daughter is very much like that, she enjoys, and generates, a lot of noise, and my partner almost always has music, or a podcast playing wherever he is. My son is more like me, he’s quiet, and he’ll complain about noises bothering him when he’s trying to sleep or concentrate on something.

On my post about the introverted writer, the comments were pretty unanimous, almost every writer who commented agreed that they too considered themselves to be somewhat introverted and/or shy out in the real world. So now I wonder, does enjoyment of silence go hand in hand with the introverted personality type?

Do you enjoy silence for itself, not just as a means to concentrate on writing?

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52 Responses to “The Silent Writer”

  1. Great post Vanessa! I’m going to start off by breaking the trend here and saying that I like to listen to music while I write… I like the noise.. dun dun dun.. When I’m writing at work, I will generally have music on in my ear, but this is because it’s a different type of writing. If people are interested, my music of choice is mainly Classical (Einaudi mostly). However, if I REALLY have to concentrate on something, I guess I’m the same as you, I like the quiet. I get too distracted by the music and start dancing. So, I guess I’m both. This comment was waffley.. sorry! I changed my mind halfway through! haha!

  2. I love silence, too. This is one of the reasons I write so early in the morning–nothing is more quiet than those hours before dawn. I am terrible with loud noises; I jump out of my skin anytime I hear a crash or a boom. I’m a wreck during thunderstorms. Music is one form of noise that I can handle, but in small, mediated doses. I like to listen to music when I’m writing, sometimes. Other times, I won’t miss it at all and I’ll discover I spent a couple of hours writing in complete and utter silence. When I’m housecleaning or baking, I like music in the background–but I don’t like it so loud that I can’t hear myself think.

    As an introvert combo writer, I do a lot of work in my head–even when I’m not actively writing. Noise interferes with that work. I think that might be why silence is necessary for me on a regular basis.

    Great post, Vanessa.

    • Thanks Kate. You sound very similar to me – sometimes music is good, but often silence is better! I know what you mean about the early mornings, occasionally I have woken up early to write and it’s very peaceful at that time. Not sure I could do it every day like you do though!

  3. I have moments when I just have to turn the radio off because it stops me thinking for myself. The ‘loud’ silence that fills the void is sheer bliss and relief, like snuggling into your duvet on a cold night. For me, silence is never silent; it is a place of voices (mostly mine), ideas and if the birds outside penetrate it, then so much the better.

  4. My best moments to write are when it is absolutely silent. I don’t mean void of birds or hearing the scampering of squirrels, but the silence that comes from no tv, no radio, just me and my fingers pecking away on a keyboard. I do have the ability to block out all other noise when I’m reading a book, but writing is a different beast all together. I used to listen to music before I realized I clicked on Spotify and just wasted an hour finding and listening to music and not writing. We all need a break now and then, but I really should spend that time taking a brisk walk instead of sitting on my fanny. It would certainly do more to clear the cobwebs and get me in shape.

    • I find that both with reading and with writing, if I’m tired I find it much harder to block out other noises, so that’s most of the time! That’s true as well, if you’re going to cut into your writing time by spending ages choosing the right music, then that’s not good either!

  5. I almost always have music, or a podcast playing, wherever I am ……, but I would call myself pretty much an introvert so the connection doesn’t seem to be true for me?

    Years ago I could work at anything with any music or radio playing away around me. But a few years ago I suddenly realised I could no longer concentrate without silence. Then more recently I have found I am wanting, and tolerating, the music back on.

    So do we change over time?, or are all of you consistently silence, or noise, addicts?!

    • Howdy pardner! 😉

      Yep, in terms of what we like/don’t like or tolerate, I think we certainly can change over time, and over different days, or even different times of the day, but my point really is about whether certain people actually enjoy silence for the sake of silence, whether or not they need it to concentrate. Like I said, silence is where I need to go to recharge my batteries, but my batteries don’t need charging all the time.

  6. Your post makes a lot of sense, Vanessa. I sometimes sit down, sort out a soundtrack, put the headphones on and blast the sound into my brain, but I never seem to get as much writing done under these circumstances as when I simply start writing in silence. I like to think if I’m listening to some hard rock, I can write a better fight scene, but it never seems to turn out that way. The songs are’t long enough to get into a good flow. In fact, I can relate to Jenny as well, as I can spend more time fiddling with the playlist (or dancing to myself…) than writing.

    • Do you actually enjoy silence though, or is it just that you need it to concentrate? The thought of you dancing to yourself made me laugh 🙂

      • I’m a fiddler. You’d probably hate to be writing in the same room as me. If I’m not jiggling my feet, I’m whistling or tapping 🙂 I love the idea of silence, and I seem to work better in “silence”, but I reckon you’d class my silence as low grade – the sort of silence you’d find at the end of the isle, next to the battered beans and a “three-pack” of nondescript Polish beer…

  7. I love sound, but not noise. The difference is choice and timing. Sometimes I want Pigbag or T.Rex, but in other moods I want Chopin or Bach. With breakfast, Radio 4 voices; later on, Radio 3. Filing, tidying, cleaning, pruning, Facebook, playing with cats can all be done to background music. Reading and writing need silence. If there is unwanted noise around me, then music I know well can act as white noise, cancelling out the disturbance. Today I’ve been listening to Schubert song cycles and haven’t heard a note because my brain filtered it out along with the sound of the neighbour’s chainsaw. When silence is available, it’s first choice. Great post… and great comments too.

    • Thanks Arabella. I usually have Radio 4 on in the kitchen, I like to catch up on the news and current issues of the day in the mornings while I’m making the kids packed lunches and breakfast, and in the evening when I’m making dinner I enjoy the funny satirical shows. In the car however, the complete opposite, I usually have Heart on – I don’t want to have to think about anything much while I’m driving, so it’s just bubble gum pop and silly banter and I like to find out what’s going on locally. But other than those times, if there is any much noise going, I’m likely to be craving silence.

  8. I absolutely hate working in silence. At work, I always have to have the radio on; and when I write I always have either my collection or the radio playing. When there’s silence, I feel like I’m alone, and I hate that feeling especially as I have little to no friends anyway.

    Désolée, mais la musique est mon mari! 🙂

    • That makes me sad that you say you have little to no friends! I find that in the first minute or so of silence I feel a bit lonely, but then I get past that. The silence has it’s own noise, a more peaceful, non-intrusive noise.

      Chacun son truc! 😉

  9. I was not born a multitasker and I never grew into one – even in my teens, I never wanted music playing when I was studying the way most young people did even way back then. The only time I wanted music was when I was sweeping out the house on weekends! To me, music (and for me it’s classical) was made to listen to (actually, I used to embroider a lot and I loved listening to music while I was doing that, because embroidering requires no serious focus of brain power). I never have music playing in the background of my life – I hate that. And never, never when I’m at the computer, no matter what I’m doing there! Strangely, however, I fall asleep easily while watching TV, especially if it’s a program without a plot, like a nature or science show – or music! Then I go to bed where it’s nice and quiet, and I can’t go to sleep! Ha, ha! Just proves everybody has odd quirks!

    • That’s funny because I’m the same, I can fall asleep in front of the TV, and I’ve even fallen asleep in the cinema on more than one occasions where you would expect the high volume to be anything but conducive to sleep!

      At work I’m in an office where sometimes I’m on my own, and sometimes there are a couple of others in there, and even though I Iike the others very much, as soon as they’re there I start feeling irritated by the noises they generate! Trying to work while they’re on the phone, or eating, or whatever, drives me nuts!

  10. I love love love solitude and silence. Need it really. I might put on a little piano music when I write sometimes, but I do it only to drown out the mysterious bangs and thumps made by my six-year-old downstairs.

  11. It should come as no surprise to you that, as a Highly Sensitive Person, noise distracts me. Sometimes, if the noise is too loud and chaotic, I can get a panic attack. Silence is my friend and ally. I can’t write without it. If I’m writing (or reading) and noise enters my field of attention, my brain latches onto the noise. I can’t filter it out–not even gentle “background” music. It all comes to the foreground. Ever since I got dizzy, my brain works differently…

    • Oops, I’m on my own login instead of my Limebird login, oh well, the gravatar is the same so nobody will notice if I don’t draw attention to it…

      Anyway, you’re right that what you say is no surprise to me; when I was writing this post I thought to myself – if anyone is going to be with me here on the silence, it’ll be old Lorna…and when I say ‘old’ I don’t mean old as in old, I mean old as in…young! 🙂

  12. Music is fine in the car or when I’m busy doing “non-mental” things. But I need quiet for writing and work. It’s so distracting to hear other people talking in the office. When I was a teenager, I could blast my music with the best of them, but now? Lower, lower, lower, please! Sudden loud noises have always been hard for me. Everyone around me probably gets a good laugh when I jump at them. Even now I want to put my fingers in my ears at fireworks celebrations. And I doubt I could ever fire a gun because of the noise. Some of my characters are rolling their eyes at me for that!

    • Yes, you sound like me. Although I think I’ve always been quite happy with silence, I’m pretty sure I used to do my homework in silence when I was at school. I can’t bear it when there’s talking in the office, it’s so distracting as you say.

  13. I happen to be one of those people that enjoy silence as well. Especially when it is in an outdoor space with fine weather and I am able to be near trees or water. I sometimes will bring a cup of coffee with me during my time there, but it is not necessary. I can sink into myself and simply be. I tend to do my writing in silence in my home studio, but I don’t mind the noise of a coffeehouse when writing. I’ve finally learned to tune out the background noise. I don’t believe that this ability to be comfortable with one self is necessarily an introverted characteristic. I like people and being around people. I enjoy concerts, parties and meeting with friends at the Mall and whatnot. Most people consider me to be an extrovert. Yet, there is something to be said about having time to ponder all the little particulars of life and then remember these ideas as you write.

    In any case, I enjoyed your post. It made me think about my next camping trip and how I look forward to relaxing with my morning cup of coffee out among the trees. 🙂

    • Yes, that outdoor silence is lovely isn’t. Sometimes there can be a gentle outdoor noise from nature, and that’s fine, it’s not intrusive like other noise can be. I haven’t quite learned to tune out background noise, sometimes I manage it, but usually not!

      Thank you, and have a good next camping trip!

  14. I actually don’t like silence at all. I don’t like things to be loud and noisy, but I can’t think if there is no noise at all. Even at work, I do a lot of reports and things and I just find I get them done a lot faster if I’ve got something going on in the background. I like to listen to music when I write, even if its really faint to the point of not being able to hear 100%, as long as I’m not sitting in silence. Also, I’m really really shy and quite – though my husband would disagree, he thinks I’m loud!

    • That’s funny that you can’t think if there is no noise at all – It’s like you need some external noise to stimulate the noise in your head, interesting! (I don’t mean that to sound like a criticism if it does!).

  15. My shyness in the world is centered on people, but give me a song I love, and I’ll be on the dance floor, by myself if I have to be! I can be more open in my writing because I don’t have physical contact with my readers. I’m an extroverted introvert!

  16. Most of the time noise fazes me not, I can block it out. On rare occasions it might annoy. I tend to get lost in my own world.

  17. Most of the time I need silence to work. I can tune my daughter out in the next room watching tv if it isn’t too loud, but as with many here the dividing line doesn’t seem to be whether we write to music but when we did. Most here stated that they wrote a lot to music when they were younger, and like myself, needed more silence as we got older. Very interesting and thought provoking post Vanessa!

  18. Really interesting post, Vanessa…I too love silence and solitude in my life – not all the time (I’m not a complete hermit!), but I love having a day or evening to myself every now and then and just pottering and ‘being’. When I write or I’m studying I need silence too (although when I was younger I used to need the TV on with the sound turned right down – so there was a little hum of noise, and I could look at the screen every now and then – what’s that all about?!). I am also very sensitive to what I consider ‘unnecessary noise’ – people rustling sweet packets in the cinema, noisy eaters, snoring when I’m trying to get to sleep, etc…but I note that I have calmed down a lot on this recently and am more able to let it go…my meditation practice might have helped with that!! I read an article once about ‘The Highly Sensitive Child’ and whilst I don’t think that I was very extreme, some elements of it resonated with me…perhaps you have just inspired a subject for me to blog about some times as it has always stayed with me! Thank you! 🙂 Also, some of the Myers Briggs stuff we did at a work ‘away day’ some time ago spoke about extroverts and introverts, and I would say I am an extroverted introvert too! 🙂

    • Thanks Sharon. I would say the TV hum is perhaps something around not wanting to feel alone maybe? I think I’ve felt like that at times. I spent most of my childhood in quite a silent house because from the age of 7 onwards, it was just me and my Dad in quite a big house, and he’s very quiet and introverted, so I was never very used to a lot of noise. I’m never sure how much of my need for silence is because of that, and how much is just part of me that I would have had anyway!

  19. Interesting. Stephen Kings apparently listens to AC/DC and Metallica etc. while he writes. Or used to. Who knows? John Marsden (Tomorrow Series) advocates writing in silence. I had a teacher who suggests silence. I usually prefer silence but if there’s random noise going on I work better with Greenday in my ears, strangely enough. I can’t explain that, sorry! 😉

  20. I understand exactly where you are coming from. However, I hardly ever get silence for more than a few minutes at a time – my study is like a railway station with family coming in and out, so I just have to plough on regardless. I dream of having long bouts of silence but I sometimes wonder if I would be able to concentrate as I am now so used to noise. Lovely, thought provoking post.

  21. I prefer a bit of noise in the background. I wrote my last book with the Olympics on in the background. I HATE silence, even when I have a migraine, I prefer some music on low in the background. I’m weird that way 🙂

  22. Silence is so beautiful. Soooooooooooooooo beautiful! With five month old twins in the house I get silence far less often than I used to. So I appreciate it even more. *sigh* I even write in silence now. Its much, much nicer!

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