Soundtracking

How are you doing after the first week of lockdown easing? It’s been the Easter school holidays here and I’ve taken the week off work in order to be with my daughter E so I’m writing this sitting in the Market Square, waiting for her to come out of dancing class. It’s a warm day and the atmosphere in town is bright and cheerful. People are sitting at pavement tables, queueing for miles outside Primark and bustling about.

One of the things I’ve been conscious of in the last year is the lack of stimulation when it comes to writing. Others have spoken of a lack of focus during lockdown and that we need the interaction in order to write, keep the juices flowing. It’s strange, because there have been so many times in the last year where I’ve wanted a ‘Room of One’s Own’ to write in, to close the door and concentrate and yet, when it came to getting some work done once E was back in the school, I’ve not been able to focus in the way I would have hoped.

Sitting here, I can hear general chatter, skateboarders practising jumps and moves, the passing of trams and the cooing of horny pigeons. It provides a writing stimulation that simply hasn’t been there for so long.

I sat and wrote a tortured 1500 words this week while E did some baking in the kitchen. At times, there was a whole five minutes max between interruptions. In many ways, I really envy those people who tell you that you have to fit writing in to wherever you are, that they can grab five minutes at the kitchen table or wherever. In that time, if I can manage to remember what I’m trying to say I’m doing really well. At my best I can manage 2,000 words max in a good session but at the moment that seems a massive target. A silent sterile atmosphere is a struggle too. Maggie O’Farrell said on Desert Island Discs recently that she HAS to write in absolute silence and that even a machinery hum is too much. I couldn’t do that – I like the comforting companionship of a ticking clock at the very least.

Thank goodness then, for YouTubers and ASMR guys. My most productive periods come when I’m without interruptions but soundtracked by YouTube videos of coffee shop sounds. The Room of My Own needs to sound like a branch of Caffe Nero for it to have any effect on my concentration. Maybe you use something else: there are all kinds of white noise videos, rain falling or beach sounds. Back when I worked in an office, I often had my headphones on during the day because there were so many people nearby that I couldn’t concentrate with all the stimulation. Having just one podcast on in the background gave my brain a single thing to block out.

As we head into the latest attempt at a post-pandemic life, I need to work out how best to fit this into my writing routine. Or indeed adapt working from home and general home life to embrace a writing routine. Sometimes virtual writing retreats or sprints have helped me focus but so many of these seem to take place first thing in the morning, usually when I’m doing the school run. I may have to start setting my own time aside, headphones on, to pretend I’m back in the coffee shop once again, even if I’m sitting at the kitchen table.

I’d really like to hear how you write – do you write in silence? Has it been harder to write during lockdown?

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