I am certainly not alone in the world of writers — both good and less so — who do not write in silence. I do not wish to in any way denigrate the value of quiet for searching the soul and hearing the promptings, creative and otherwise, that we need to take heed of in life. But when I write, I do not choose to do so in a silent (or even subdued) environment. In a word, I rock. One of my favourite little memories of my last year of college is of sitting outside one of the buildings before my “Writer in Nature” class working on my reaction journal entry (I think we were reading Krakauer’s Into the Wild at the time). I had on my headphones as I worked out my (to me) surprisingly-passionate thoughts on life and meaning and a life squandered alone in the woods when one of the more buttoned-up of my fellow seminarians strolled by and was surprised when he saw what I was up to. “You’re writing and listening to music at the same time?” he asked with sincere incredulity. “It must be pretty mellow music.” I just smiled at him politely and kept working; if I had told him that the soothing sounds of Zack de la Rocha and Rage Against the Machine were exhorting me to take the power back while I formed my thoughts on life, he probably would not have understood.
When I got my brand new laptop a few years later, I was introduced to the wonder of iTunes. Suddenly I could leave my bulky cd case and portable cd player at home, carrying my powerful new writing tool and an impossibly-large jukebox all in one sleek sexy device. I was set.
And at first it was just perfect. But then I started to fuss with the music choices. I began to think that there was some perfect mix of music to accompany my writing, and fell to spending long days feeding cd after cd into the computer, and sitting up late into the night trying to classify each song to suit me own tastes and moods. I had the notion that if I only put a little time into this project, then I could automate my music listening; that I could simply select a pre-planned playlist to suit my current activity or emotional state, and the music would just pick itself, leaving me to focus on my work. A lovely idea, to which I now say “Bollocks!” quite bitterly.
Inevitably, this ‘little project’ became the project, and things went downhill from there pretty fast. One of the problems with misguided and unattainable goals is that they tend to become fixations with almost no delay. An insatiable completist by nature, I quickly filled my hard drive to overflowing with all the music I had to hand. (The complete Nine Inch Nails catalogue takes up a discouraging amount of space. But who would dare leave home without it?) And while I was doing all this, guess how much writing I was doing? Or how much reading, for that matter, or talking, or exercising, or anything else that might, in retrospect, be said to have been a wiser expenditure of my time? That’s right, just about bugger all.
So now I struggle to reclaim both my computer and my creative soul from my music collection. I have pared down the amount of music in my iTunes library (although 4.9 days’ worth still strikes me as excessive if I really think about it). I am relearning a skill I never knew was a skill: simply putting on an album and letting it play from beginning to end. And of course, I keep catching myself fiddling with the playlists or the ratings, and each time I have to patiently but firmly remind myself what I am trying to do. I am trying to write my own words, and if all the music I love is going to keep me from doing so, well, I might just have to learn to write in silence after all.