This is one of the all-time great quotes about writing from Gary Provost:
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
I find it almost impossible to get any writing done when I’m sitting in complete silence. Writing is an extremely lonely activity and something about sitting in silence amplifies that loneliness and distracts me.
But writing with the TV on or with music playing is equally as distracting. Some people listen to podcasts or albums while they write and I’ll immediately label them as sorcerers because that seems impossible. Some people listen to familiar albums on repeat while they write. That familiarity must allow their minds to anticipate all of the beats and lyrics and essentially tune them out.
I just can’t do the lyric thing. I’ve dabbled with listening to eletronica and other music that has no lyrics, but it just doesn’t do it for me.
The one thing that does seem to work for me is ambient noise. Right now, my favorite app is Coffitivity which recreates the ambient sounds of a coffee shop. There’s no music or lyrics. It’s just the mindless background noise you’d hear sitting in a coffee shop. Most of my best work is done in coffee shops so this is the next best thing and I much prefer this ambient noise over those apps that reproduce the sounds of running water or wind blowing. Those are nice, but they don’t exactly break up the feeling of loneliness.
At least with this app, I can kind of sort of pretend that I’m not sitting in a tiny room by myself making stuff up with my head.
Jerry Seinfeld has a great method for being productive and getting results. If you’re a writer, grab a calendar and place it over your desk. For every day that you write something, put an “X” through that day. The goal is to make a chain of “X’s” that runs as long as possible. If you can fill an entire calendar month with “X’s”, fantastic! This becomes addicting after a while. I’ve only been using this method for a month, but already I can’t stand the idea of not putting an “X” on a day.
I’ve modified my calendar a bit. Every day has three boxes labeled with a “W”, “R” and “E”.
W = Write
R = Read
E = Exercise
It’s unreasonable to do all three in a day during every single day (the rare occasions that I accomplish it, I refer to as “Triple Crown” days), but if I can do some combination of the three every day then I’m happy.