What Noise Level Works Best for Your Writing?
Written by
Maria Murnane
May 2013
Written by
Maria Murnane
May 2013

In my previous two posts, I asked some of my author friends where and when they most like to write. This week I asked them about preferred background noise. Personally, I alternate between complete silence and the kind of soft music they play at fancy spas. I can't have anything with lyrics or I'll get distracted. Here's how the others get the most work done:

Do you listen to music when you write?


  • Karen McQuestion, whose newest book is a paranormal young adult novel called Edgewood:"Complete silence. I self-distract very easily, so tuning out the world is essential in order for me to immerse myself in my fictional world."


  • Jezra Kaye, author of The Tattooed Heart"My preferred noise level is zero, or maybe a little soft jazz in the background."


  • Raymond Bean, author of the School Is a Nightmare and Sweet Farts series: "It depends on what I'm writing. I'm a bit of a mixed bag on this one. I'll put on a game or music (no lyrics) from time to time, but silence works best for me."



I love how different we all are, don't you? Our reasons for preferring different noise levels might have to do with the type of book we're writing, or why we're writing it, or our energy levels at any given time. It also may be none of the above, just as there's no real explanation for why I like chocolate ice cream and you like vanilla. It just goes to show that there's no "right" answer to any of this. Writing is an art, not a science. So if you want to be an author, my advice is this: when it comes to churning out an entire book, the only correct way to do it is to just sit down and write.


Maria Murnane is the author of the best-selling romantic comedies Perfect on Paper, It's a Waverly Life, Honey on Your Mind, and Chocolate for Two. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at www.mariamurnane.com.


This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2013 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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  • Absolute quiet usually doesn't work for me (sometimes but not usually)...music (various types of music depending on the mood), the TV, the fan, anything can be going in the background...but a jarring intrusive noise...i.e. the phone, someone trying to talk to me will pull me out of the story in a minute. I also write in my head walking, riding the bus, wherever...there is no specific where to my writing.

  • Pamela Kivi

    I like writing in a coffee shop best. There is a certain amount of respectful silence but mostly nobody is trying to get your attention. There is a low hum of activity that is energizing. After I get going I can add music but in the beginning that is not usually helpful. Words from lyrics sometimes get in the way from making my own words. Yesterday music led me to writing and I kept the music on. That is rare.

  • Kim Defforge

    I desired solitary solitude to write my book, "Solitary Desire" :) but also depends on what I'm working on at the moment!

  • Avril Somerville

    At one time, I preferred a quiet background, but now find that my best writing, where the thoughts are most fluid, are written when there's some level of background noise (not white noise, but music, talk-radio, or conversation of some kind that I generally cannot take part in, vis-a-vis the TV). British TV series are particularly writer-friendly as well. Half the time, I don't understand what the characters are saying, but occasionally the humor gets my creative juices flowing. 

    My "Memoir & Me" teacher recommended the TV being on and getting in my most relaxed position and place to write, which is generally not at a desk or in a quiet library-type atmosphere. It works!

  • I  prefer silence or New Age and Light Classical music.  My mood really dictates what is going to be playing or if I need total silence.  My mood is very fickle, so I just  roll with the flow. There is one thing though, No TV and no radio, NONE!

  • Lorraine Swoboda

    Quiet and birdsong, with the odd spot of OH working on something in the workshop.

  • April Katko

    I listen to a variety of music when I write. I can't stand the silence. 

  • Cindy Cagle

    I normally prefer silence, but in recent days I've made a Beethoven radio station on Pandora that seems to work as well, but low volume. 

  • Betty Hafner

    I spend way too much time picking music to write by but playing it quietly in the background works so well for me. I just finished an essay about going to my high school reunion (I was an early "60s grad) and it absolutely flowed out with "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "For Your Precious Love", etc. in the background. I'm working on a memoir about a difficult first marriage in the '70s and my favorite iTunes playlist has some of the romantic, tear-jerkers I listened to then like "Everything I Own" and "Aubrey" by Bread and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Roberta Flack.

  • Jenna Sauber

    I definitely love to have music playing. Usually something like James Taylor, Frank Sinatra, or something else mellow. If not, I prefer silence, or at least some birds chirping or ocean waves in the background. I can't do completely noisy and I can't do complete silence.

  • Tahanee Roberts

    It's a must that I have some kind of sound in the background as I write, if not I'll go crazy! There's a difference between sound and noise. Many writers enjoy the sound of birds chirping, but for me that sound becomes distracting after a while. Relaxing on a mellow evening, in my cozy papasan chair and a hot cup of tea in my hand always does the trick.

  • Julie Golden

    At one time, music seemed like a great idea. I pulled a list from iTunes of classical, new age and instrumentals. The list was divided into timed sections with the intention of staying at the computer until the series ended. After a couple of tries, it became too distracting or maybe just too relaxing. Writing is one of the most quiet times of my day, and I treasure it.

  • Donetta Sifford

    I write poetry, and most of my best work comes in the early a.m. when everyone else is sleeping.  I have insomnia so I'm awake a lot during 3 a.m.  Sometimes I participate in prompts that ask for writing based on a song.  I can listen to it, and then write.  The lyrics to the song distract me if I try listening to it while writing.  Sometimes, I enjoy listening to calm meditation music while writing.  I suppose music is based on my mood.  I cannot write with any other distraction though, ex: T.V on, everyone in the house awake and buzzing around, my phone has to be turned off.  The sounds in the background of being outdoors is helpful to me also. 

  • Silence, as in pre-dawn silence, before the birds, before the world wakes...like Plath.

  • Kim Defforge

    24/7 in France: I am a morning person, so like to write in the morning, while listening to the birds singing and the regular chime of the local church bell - peaceful and inspirational to me!

  • Mary E. Merrell

    I agree with Kym. When I edit, I can have my favorite news program on, but when I'm writing a first draft, I do best with silence. I don't want to believe it, but every time I leave the tv off or the music, I look up an hour later and realize I had totally been in the zone and my rough draft isn't so rough.

  • Becca Martin

    I'm writing a novel about a rock band, so sometimes I need musical inspiration, depending on the kind of scene I'm writing. Other times, though, I need to get inside my head for the exact words and turns of phrases that I'm seeking. That's when I have to shut the music off and get myself in the scene.

  • Tyra Brumfield

    I'm with some of the authors above in that I like total silence. I'm easily distracted, so the blinds are pulled and no music. Someone tweeted last night that they listen to the theme song for the Rose Ceremony on The Bachelorette, when they're fixing their breakfast. It was meant as a joke, but I listened to it, closely. Not bad for background noise.

  • Victoria Escobar

    I'm a moody creature.  ^_^ It depends on the mood of the scene.  I write angry better with hard pounding rock and sexy better with smooth R&B... Though the default is a New Age mix.

  • Urenna Sander

    I prefer classical, especially Vivaldi CDs by Han-Na Chang or Giuliano Carmignola.

  • Doris A McCraw

    I use music as a 'prompt' or mood enhancer depending on what I am writing. If it requires I be stern or angry "Danse Macbre" does the trick. If I am working on non-fiction total quiet is the norm.  Otherwise classical or heavy metal are the choice of the day.

  • I prefer silence while writing altough I too can go to my local coffee shop and be soothed by the loud background noise.  After reading the posts here I think I might try classical music to see how that goes.

  • Right now I like it NICE and EASY - Frank Sinatra - because I'm writing about 1960 and the main characters are in love and this is "their song." The problem is to write I keep playing only this song or I sing it off key or hum it.

  • Kym Motley

    I write while listening to jazz or classical at a low volume. I can edit while listening to background noise from the TV.

  • Cynthia Platt

    The sweet sounds of my local coffee shop--music, other people talking, intriguing coffee drinks getting made--work best for me!