muses 640wCreatives are often asked the same sorts of questions. Some are ephemeral, some are practical, some are environmental, and so forth. For me, perhaps one of the dodgiest is one of the most common: what do you listen to when you create?

On a personal level, I tend to like quiet. I try to avoid loud spaces, especially if there is a strong bass or subsonic component (I don’t hear subsonics, but I feel them in my body). I have never gone to a rock concert or symphony — though I have gone to smaller venues on a handful of occasions. I’ve also had a lifelong difficulty in filtering background noise — if there’s a crowd or media going on, if I don’t lipread, I’m not going to understand you. Amazingly, for someone in eir fifties, my hearing tests quite well (actually, it tests well for someone in eir twenties). I don’t have a hearing problem, I have a sound-processing problem. Understanding sound requires from me a measure of concentration.

I write in as silent an environment as I can find — even putting on noise-masking ear protection to quiet the ambient sounds. As I often remark, it allows me to clearly hear the voices in my head. There is nothing but my imagination or the whispers of a Muse to direct where the thoughts go.

I’ve observed that many, if not most, writers like to have music playing when they write. A certain piece or genre for romance; this for horror; another for action, etc. I don’t discount that. Music definitely helps to evoke an emotional state. I always wonder about how stressful it must be to find the right music to help you through the pages and it’s not available for some reason. How much time must be wasted looking for the right tune? What if you can’t? Do you soldier on or consider the session a lost cause? If for no other reason, it’s a wonder to me that music for writing so common.

None of this is to say that I don’t like music. I do. I don’t love music, but I do enjoy listening. I like rock/pop from the 60s-80s. I really like classical, especially chamber music. I dabble with jazz and big bands as well as taiko and things like the Bulgarian women’s choir. I even try to sample the modern stuff. But given the choice between a quiet room and one filled with music, more often than not I’ll pick the quiet room.

Unlike with writing, I will play music when I’m making art. Not all the time — when I really need to concentrate, I’ll turn the music off — but during all the time-consuming, tedious phases, I’ll put on some background tunes. Sometimes it’s classical, sometimes it’s rock — it has more to do with whether I need to be calm (classical) or distracted/entertained (rock) or focused (quiet). Never more specific than that.

What about y’all? Any quiet seekers? Is music a necessity for your process, or is it just a nice addition? What combinations do you employ?