You know those people who need background noise to concentrate? They have to have music blasting, a television blaring; IPOD so loud that even with earphones jammed in their ears the entire room can hear the music. Sometimes in the absence of noise they even hum to themselves. Well I’m not one of those. I have to have absolute silence to concentrate. Why? I don’t know how to filter sound. I listen to everything: the lyrics of songs, the muted conversations in the background of the main characters on the TV.
Having absolute silence worked for me in high school though I shared a room with five garrulous siblings. During exams I went back to the high school in the evenings and studied. Yes other students were there and for most of them playing and socializing took precedence over studying. But there were always empty classrooms that I could occupy to get a few hours of studying done; and then there was the University of the West Indies Extramural Center and the teachers college all within close proximity to my home.
It worked when I was in college when I could sequester myself in a quiet room in the library and concentrate. It even worked in graduate school when writing my dissertation. I would put my baby to bed and then work on it most of the night into the wee hours of the morning surviving on just three or four hours sleep.
Recently I found what worked in college and high school was not working for me. Just like studying for an exam, I need total quiet when I write or prepare material for my classes. But each time I sit down to write I hear the inevitable “Moooommmmmmmmy!” followed by bawling. My ears perk up, my heart race and I rush to see what the problem is, fearing the worst until I hear the statement “My brother is being mean to me.” I’m relieved that my worst fears didn’t come to fruition, but now my concentration is broken as I referee the issues between the kids. When I finally resettle, before I can complete a paragraph, my older daughter delves into a longwinded spiel about the interactions between the kids in her class and all their dramas without an end in sight. I would like to tune her out but I feel obligated to listen, after all, how could I foster communication without lending my ears?
I originally wrote between the kids’ bedtime and mine to circumvent the problem. But now that my oldest is getting older, her bedtime has been edging a little closer to mine and my husband who was always an early bird, is now going to bed the same time as I do. Plus, as I get older, I find 3 or 4 hours sleep is not enough. I need at least six, preferably eight or else I get pounding headaches.
So what do I do? How do I get my writing in? I installed a filter between my ears and my brain. I had to. I have learned and I am still learning (it’s a work in progress) to tune out background noises. Right now I am writing this blog as I sit at the mall in the middle of a toddler play program with a microphone blaring out “If you’re happy and you know it,” and kids dancing and following the actions.
When I first started writing, a seasoned author gave me some very important advice, “Don’t find time to write, make time to write.” Now I totally understand.
How has your approach to writing changed over time?