Eavesdropping is one of the great advantages to coffee shop writing. Transcribing other people’s conversations is a great way to practice dialogue. But that’s something I only do occasionally. Most of the time, I need to block out the conversations going on around me to stay on task. This is especially true if there’s an annoying conversation nearby, in which every other word is “like” used for emphasis or as punctuation. Also, if I’m at the shop in the afternoon, when it’s full of college students having the kinds of conversations and arguments I had a long time ago (e.g., the shameful tendency for people who are not musicians to refer to Led Zeppelin as a heavy metal band, etc.).
Then there’s the question of music. While some places offer a variety of sounds, I often find that I either don’t like the music they play, or I do like it and, therefore, find it distracting. I’ll drift away from whatever piece I’m working on and start paying attention to the music instead. This is especially true for music with singing – the lyrics pull me out of my story and into someone else’s.
Even if I’m not distracted by lyrics or conversations, the general sounds of the shop or instrumental music might still affect my mood. In such cases, I tailor my soundtrack to the story I’m writing. If I’m writing a scene happening in a quiet room, I don’t want booming thunder for a soundtrack. If I’m writing a scene with two characters having a heated conversation in a car at night, that thunder might be perfectly appropriate (not to mention trite).
I contend with all of this by listening to one of those white noise apps. I’m cheap, so I use the free one. For years, I used Sleep Machine. Here are some of my favorite general combinations:
“Jury Duty”: morning birds, fish tank, spaceship
“Dusk”: frogs, stream, crickets
“Sunny Day”: beach (small waves), wind chimes, white noise 4
“@Office”: clock (really faint), low fan, white noise 4
“Summer Afternoon”: rain (heavy), distant train, rain & thunder
Because you can listen to three different tracks at the same time, there are lots of possibilities. If you’re writing a scene in a doctor’s office, you can use the fish tank sound with the waiting room sound or fan. You get it.
Unfortunately, I now need a new app. I just got a new phone and Sleep Machine isn’t available on this iOS. I will probably just download the top three cheapest apps and decide which to keep based on the UI. Unless someone has a favorite they would like to share.
Do you employ such measures, or do you find it easier to write with the ambience of the shop? Do you find this different from the noise your brain has to contend with at home? If you do use an app, which one? What’s your favorite individual sound or combination of sounds? Do you stay with a standard, or do you use sounds tailored to the scenes you’re writing? Please share and thanks for reading.