Silence, or Singing? What We Listen To When We Write

Some authors write with a playlist blaring in the background. Others prefer a monastic cone of silence. Is it earbuds or earplugs for the Chicks? And if it’s the former, what’s the soundtrack to their writing success?

 Kellye Garrett


I’m that writer who needs complete silence and zero distractions in order to even think about writing. If I did decide to write or attempt to write to music, it would probably go something like this.

Sits at computer. Turns on Mariah Carey. Writes the words “Chapter 1.” Proceeds to start singing along to Fantasy Remix featuring ODB. Spends 2 minutes trying to remember when ODB died. Spends another 2 minutes reading ODB’s entire Wikipedia page. Decides to buy all of his other songs immediately. Heads to iTunes. Downloads songs. Decides to create an ODB playlist. Pats self on back for remembering how to create playlist. Gets out of seat and attempts to drop it like it’s hot to playlist. Almost twists ankle while attempting to drop it like it’s hot to playlist. Gets up and thanks God I live alone and no one saw me almost twist my ankle while attempting to drop it like it’s hot to playlist. Decides to take a bath.

Two days later remembers that I was supposed to be writing. Sits at computer. Turns on Whitney Houston…

Ellen Byron


I have the musical taste of a fifteen-year-old, so I gravitate toward poppy pop and know pretty much all the lyrics to every Taylor Swift song. I consider KC and the Sunshine Band the most underrated group in history, to the point that I named the protagonist in my mystery, You Can Never Be Too Thin or Too Dead, Kaycee. But music is what I dance or sing to, not write to, so I am a Cone of Silence author. But sidebar factoid: I have a savant-like ability to hear a song and tell you whether or not it’s a hit or a miss. I can even predict if it will land in the Top Ten. While I have awed people with this odd talent, I’ve never been able to capitalize on it. But as I write this — in total silence — I’m thinking it would be an interesting trait for a future character.

Marla Cooper

CotC Word balloons

It’s hard for me not to sing along when I hear a song I love, and I put on daily performances in the shower and car. So I can’t listen to anything with lyrics, or else I’d be belting out songs instead of putting words on the page. I’m good with total silence, but lately, I’ve found myself enjoying listening to white noise. Not the staticky drone that I listen to when I sleep, because that would just put me to sleep. Sometimes I listen to an endless loop of cafe ambience that makes me feel like I’m writing in a coffeeshop—the murmur of caffeinated friends, the clink of spoon against mug, the occasional scrape of a chair on concrete. This is especially great late at night when I feel like I’m the only person in the world who’s still awake. My other favorite is nature sounds, namely this eight-hour video of a bunch of songbirds hanging out by a waterfall. I find that both options drown out any noises that threaten to distract me, so I don’t have to get all scowly when perfect silence becomes a little less than perfect.

Lisa Q. Mathews

CotC Word balloons

Ever heard of the “Cocktail Party Effect”? (No, not drunk writing!) It’s when you can focus your attention on one conversation while a whole bunch of other stuff goes on around you. Yep, I’m that person who writes like the wind at a busy coffee shop. At home? Not so much, because I’m easily distracted there. My soundtrack of choice is baseball, football, or golf (unless a New England team or Phil Mickelson are playing, because then my attention zooms to the TV). Music? Yes, please—preferably matching the manuscript (ex. surf rock for a Florida setting, jigs and reels or The Waterboys for an Irish theme, etc.). I also match tunes to the writing stage and deadline desperation level. The Ramones are great for final copyedits, for example. And to power through the final chapters of my latest manuscript, set in a retirement community, I set IHeart Radio on a swing station. Who knew there were so many versions of In the Mood? Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, you’re my heroes.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you need quiet to concentrate?

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