A trick that works

Hi gang, Craig with you again. I’ve been toying with something I think you’ll be interested in. First you get some background.

When I started writing I used to play classical music in the background. I can’t handle anything with vocals or I won’t focus on the task at hand. This worked well for about a year, until my wife started having the same days off I did.

When you get up at 4:00 to write, your wife won’t appreciate your classical music while she’s trying to sleep. I started writing in total silence.

Time marched on, and we wound up with different shifts again. I made a playlist of theatrical music and that helped. (Still no vocals.)

This year we got one of those silly Alexa devices for Christmas. After about a day of trying to stump her with obscure blues music, the new wore off. Then, I was writing one day and asked Alexa to play the sound of a thunderstorm. (We’re starting to get to the point, I promise.)

The popular term is ambient noise, and it really helped. One thing I have to watch for is white room syndrome when I write. Alexa has hundreds of ambient sounds to pick from. Listening to city sounds was amazing. It reminded me there are traffic sounds, and jet aircraft to help flesh out my scenes. Marshes and swamps have frogs and insects, even a bit of wind.

About this time, I mentioned this in our top secret Story Empire cave. Staci Troilo told me about Ambient Mixer. This is a site where people make their own ambient collections and share them with everyone else. You can listen and search for all kinds of things. The Slytherin Common Room is pretty cool. If you sign up for free, you can make your own tracks. I’ve done this and the results are great. I have some for some future books, but also have a track called Serang that I really like. (It has wind, birds, a bamboo flute, and martial arts sounds.) Unfortunately, I have to dedicate some screen space to make it work while I write. Like this:

Ambient Mixer has some limitations, but is a ton of fun to use. You get about eight options, so if you’re writing for a while it starts to repeat.

I also really like YouTube. I’m not going to give you a tutorial, because you just go there and search. It has a ton of things, and most of them last about ten hours. There are quite a few without advertisements, which I prefer. The downside is figuring out how to write and play something at the same time.

Might not be an issue for you, but I found that playing YouTube on my phone, while broadcasting to a Bluetooth speaker works pretty well. This preserves my big iPad for the writing part of this adventure.

YouTube mixes sometimes include a bit of theatrical music which I enjoy. I’ve been working with a lot of pirate themes in my current WIP. Creaking ropes, cannon, sloshing waves, shouting, all serve to remind me to add some of this detail to the smoke and smell of black powder.

This is still a work in progress for me. I find I want a different ambience when I change scenes. Gathering a few links for the day seems to be a good idea. (At least in my case.) I can visit Serang out in the wilderness on her quest, then switch to James aboard Lanternfish. The sounds remind me to include a bit more environmental data in my descriptions.

You might want to check some of this out. Ambient sounds have come a long way since they used to call it white noise. There are any number of spaceports, haunted graveyards, or casinos for you to take advantage of.

It looks like many of these were made for gamers. If your dungeon campaign needs a drippy catacombs an ambiance exists for it. That same track can really help with writing, too.

Even in my Hat series, there are times I need a spooky forest, a diner, or even a busy street, and someone has created something to help.

Let me hear from you. Do you think you’d ever use something like this? Does anyone else suffer from white room syndrome? I appreciate the reminder that crickets are calling at night, or that insects exist everywhere.

75 thoughts on “A trick that works

  1. Pingback: A cool bit of technology | Story Empire

  2. I’m a little late to the party. But I’m listening to soft classical music as I type this, and all day when I’m writing. (Right now it’s Czech Suite: Polka Op.39
    By Antonin Dvorak). I don’t like silence while writing, although if need be, I I do hear birds singing and leaves swaying when I can leave the window open. I definitely can’t write to music with words. Thunderstorm white noise would lead me to writing suspense, which is okay, but for me, classical is what works for all genres..

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  4. You have mentioned that your write to music before, Craig. I know that others do too. I am one of those sad people that can’t have music playing while I do things. I have tried it but it just irritates me. I don’t need silence. I can actually put up with a lot of background noise when I work or write, but just not music.

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  5. I love this post, Craig. I have several CDs of nature sounds, classical, and a mixture of music and nature that I still enjoy listening to. I used to write to Mozart, but have been writing in silence for a while now, although I appreciate nature sounds. I think I may try this and perhaps use the newer tech and check out the site and YouTube and see where this leads me. Great idea and suggestions, thanks.

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  7. Like you and(it seems) many others I once listened to classical music as I wrote. Particularly Sibelius. Then found that the uplifting and sometimes sombre (lol- spelled correctly as I am British- despite what spell check says) strains of the music changed the characters to suit the mood of the music. I tried ambient sounds via Alexa and though good it did not really work for me. Strangely, on another authors suggestion I tried “Phaedra” by Tangerine Dream and that worked for me. I have found that most of their works do.
    I am not suggesting that it would work for all but it is well worth a try. Just as an aside I have a friend (not boasting) who writes, deep and complex hard Sci-fi whilst listening to death metal at excruciating volumes. Everyone to they’re own.

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  8. I listen to a lot of music – but never when I’m writing. Anything with words would intrude too much, and with classical music I become swept up in the pleasure of the experience. I have used ambient noise to help me sleep when I’m in pain or simply to shut down a busy mind but I’d never considered having it on in the background while writing. It’s certainly worth a go. Thanks.

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  9. When I write, which isn’t often these days, I like noise. It doesn’t matter what the noise is. Music, with or without lyrics, outside noises, television. It really doesn’t matter. When there is no noise, then I can’t concentrate.

    I am checking out the ambient mixer site. Thanks, Craig.

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  10. Personally, music is an activity on its own. I just can’t focus with any music or TV playing in the background. But I haven’t really tried ambient mixer and the like. Thanks for the ideas!

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  11. I love having ambient noise in the background, Craig, and your post prompted me to incorporate that. I find that it raises the vibration in my home. It’s there, but not there, if that makes any sense. My faves are found on YouTube with 396 to 528 HZ. Great suggestion and I will have to look into the Ambient Mixer. Thanks, Craig!

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  12. I need silence while writing. I’ve never understood how people can write in busy coffee shops or whatever. That said, this sounds great. I definitely can write while there’s music or sound (sans vocals). Love the idea of creating a playlist for each MS. I’ve heard of that but never tried it. Thanks, Craig. 🙂

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  13. I make a playlist on YouTube for each book. When I slide on the headphones, I’m right back in the story. The cool part about YouTube is people post everything. I needed a video of a specific forest for I Am Mayhem, and sure enough, a hiker videoed six hours of trekking through the exact wooded trails I needed. Worked perfect! The mixer sounds great, though. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks, Craig!

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  14. I love that mixer. It’s so much fun to play with to create the exact track you need. And as I write on a laptop instead of a tablet, it doesn’t show up on my screen at all, so it’s really out of the way when I listen to it.

    I’m glad you’re having fun with it.

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    • I can pull my phone trick with the mixer, too. The image was just to show my experimentation. Thanks for telling me about this. I find creating mixes to be fun in its own right. (Just not during my writing time) It have a couple of instances where it really helped with my scenes.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Oooh, such a cool idea, Craig! I have a few apps on my phone that do this, and thanks to Staci, I have also used ambient mixer. I listen to instrumental music when I write but I also like ambient sounds. I don’t really have a problem with white room syndrome (if anything, at times I have to pare back my descriptions), but this is a great idea for homing in on atmosphere for so many different situations!

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  16. I think a lot of folks are going to find this idea (and your wonderful suggestions) very helpful, Craig. Alas, if I have any sound at all going on when I sit down to write, I can’t hear the voices in my head! (They’re the ones that dictate to me as I tell my stories, so I really need to be listening to them as I go.) However, I know a lot of writers don’t care for silence as they work, and I think they’ll appreciate learning about what’s available these days.

    And for myself, I think I’d quite like to have some of these sounds to keep me calm while I’m doing boring household chores. I can totally see me washing dishes with lovely swamp noises going on in the background. 😀 I think I’m going to give it a try. TV just annoys me, so why not find something way more interesting and relaxing? It would be good when I do my deep breathing exercises, too. (Taught to me by my daughter, the Yoga instructor.) So, even if I don’t want a single sound while writing, I think I’ve just found a way to make my chores much less onerous. THANKS! 🙂 Super post!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I tried it as a remedy for white-room syndrome, and it worked. It’s not distracting like music. There is the old-fashioned volume control to make sure it isn’t overpowering. I know people use it for all kinds of things, and chores sound like a good target.

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  17. Craig, this is brilliant! I have never thought of this. I don’t like having music on because I feel it pulls me away from my scenes, but I think ambient sounds might actually enhance my scenes. I love what you said about it helping you to write more about the sounds and other surroundings. I’ve downloaded the app and look forward to trying it. Thank you! 🙂

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  18. As much as music inspires me to write, I need silence while writing. I have listened to the ambient mixer when I wanted to set a certain mood or help describe a scene.

    I’ll take you back longer than that. I used to have cassette tapes of night forests, desert winds, thunderstorms, etc. Used to listen to them while falling asleep. 🙂

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  19. Pingback: A trick that works | Story Empire | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  20. Thank you, Craig, you’ve helped me think about how sound affects my writing. If I’m wording a particular scene, I need silence. If I’m conceptualizing, dreaming, then ambient sound helps. Like you, with vocals, I’m too distracted to write anything. And, if there’s a chatty robin outside my window, I know it’s time to take a break and enjoy a conversation. 😊

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