“Miss Molly had a dolly who was sick sick sick…”
Many writers create playlists of the music which inspires them to write (my publishers revealed the playlist for my own recent teen novel earlier this month) but I doubt that the nursery rhyme Miss Molly Had A Dolly is on many novel playlists.
However, a couple of weeks ago, I was in an Edinburgh library, grabbing half an hour to write while one of my children was at a music lesson, when I realised I was in the library for exactly the same half hour as the local Book Bugs rhyme time session.
And it didn’t distract me at all. It was very noisy, but it was pleasant noise, noise which made me smile whenever I surfaced briefly from my fictional world to listen to boats being rowed or bus wheels going round, and it didn’t prevent me writing.
Which made me consider what does and doesn’t distract me.
I spend a lot of time visiting schools and book festivals etc, so I do a lot of writing in trains, staffrooms, libraries and cafes. And I get a lot of serious focussed work done in those places. I can ignore teachers talking about unruly pupils and difficult families (they must assume that anyone typing on a keyboard can’t hear them…), I can ignore waiters dropping glasses and drunken hen parties at the other end of the carriage.
I can write efficiently in the midst of any amount of noise.
Provided it’s nothing to do with me.
Because the one place I absolutely must have peace and quiet for writing is my own house.
At home, the slightest creak of a child getting up unexpectedly early in the morning can knock me right out of my imagination (who is that? is she ok? do I have to make breakfast already? oops, I’ve forgotten what I was about to type…) Whereas in a library, a dozen adults singing Miss Molly Had A Dolly to a dozen children who are not my children, is just background noise.
At home any loud noises or even quiet sounds (is anything more distracting than someone making an effort to tiptoe past your study door?) feel like they are my responsibility, so they pull me out of my imagination. But outside the house, the toddlers treating dollies or the waiters clattering or the teachers gossiping are nothing to do with me, so I can stay happily in my own wee writing world.
In order to write at home, I prefer everyone else to be away at work or school, or soundly asleep. Anywhere else, I can write with any level of volume at all, so long as the noise is not my responsibility. And usually, however cheerful the singing or fascinating the gossip, the real world isn’t nearly as compelling as the story I’m creating…
Indeed I often find the outside world inspiring. Unlike some writers, I don’t tend to get ideas from other people’s conversations (so those teachers can keep gossiping…) but I do watch people: how they dress, how they walk, how they act with each other.
I watch the landscape too, from moving trains. And I change what I’m writing if I see something more interesting through the train window.
Mind Blind, my new teen thriller, has a couple of chapters set on a golf course (though no-one plays a round of golf, it’s all sprinting and martial arts) and those chapters would have been very different if I’d written them sitting at home.
I’m now wondering whether I should write all my books out of the house, where I’m less easy to distract and more easily inspired. That strategy would cost a lot in train tickets and herbal teas though! So probably I should just keep getting up early and staying up late, to write in my nice quiet study…
I’m also wondering if I could test this 'nothing distracts me' theory, and try to write in the middle of a rock concert, a soft play area, or a thunderstorm. Does anyone want to challenge me to write in loud and potentially distracting locations?
Lari Don is the award-winning author of 21 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.
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