Why I Need Silence to Write

Noise chases me. And when someone chases me, I run.

Why? Well, I prefer silence in order to write. I know that this is not how everyone operates. Friends and colleagues post their playlists as they write. Wow. How do they do this? When I hear music my mind is pulled away from my own thoughts and I think about the lyrics. Even a dumb song. Even a bad song like Run Joey, Run. I usually even think that whenever I hear a song on the radio that it was cosmically ordained for me to hear it at that moment, and I try to figure out the message. Yes, I’m goofy like that.

So when I write, I rarely put on music, only sometimes during a rewrite phrase when I type hand written comments into a document on my computer. In other words, for an activity I can do on auto-pilot.

And writing in front of a TV. Forget about it. I can’t even talk to someone while the TV is on. This is why I keep my TV off unless I’m watching a weekend movie (I alternate between guilty pleasure chick flicks and art house films).

I know many writers who like to write in a coffee shop surrounded by latte drinkers. Now that’s another talent I don’t possess. When others are around, I’m driven to distraction. I love to listen in on conversations and figure out life stories. This can be frustrating because, due to the ambient noise, I often only get every third word. This makes it a game, like I’m detective of some kind, which isn’t a good habit when you’re trying to write and an especially bad habit when you’re actually at the coffee shop/restaurant with someone else, such as your husband.

When other people are in the house and awake I can also have writing issues. I’m just so aware of their presence in the house that it blocks me creatively. However, I don’t have this issue if my family is sleeping. Up until two years ago, this is part of the reason why I used to write into the middle of the night. I no longer do this for health reasons and my sanity.

The weird thing is — if I’m editing a fellow writer’s work I can operate in a noisy zone. Maybe it’s a different part of the brain? Haven’t quite figured that one out yet.

I have found silence in morning meditation, walks in nature, and during writing retreats. This quiet feeds my writing. I recommend every writer try a retreat sans TV, sans cell even. Maybe even sans computer and listen to the sounds of a pen scratching paper.

Do you need silence? And if so, how do you find it?



  1. Nature, as in via the window, the pitter patter of animal feet in the house (pets, not mice) , the sound of the fish aquairum water gurgle, all work.
    Chitter-chatter from radio (sorry, wonderful APR & NPR), the TV box, a movie streaming, music streaming, none of that help me write in The Zone.
    If there is low background talking of family in the rest of the house, I can deal with that. But I am far too nosey & involved, to have conversation in the same room. Let alone, the tearoom, bagel shop or library.
    Now I can do no-writing writing in those places, such as making idea lists, grabbing phrases, character names, etc. on the run, or reading in research. Have tried & not had much success in actual novel writing in the wide, populated spaces of my world.

    Great post Hillary – thanks!

  2. Oh, I like the way you said that, J.G.–the wide, populated spaces of my world. Nice!

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