Do you use music for creative work? Do you get distracted by noise?
In one of my interviews with psychologist and author Susan Perry, PhD, she commented that a writer she knew chose a fresh CD for each novel she wrote.
“A few people told me things like that,” Perry remarked.
“They’ll choose particular music for a particular project, and by putting that music on, they put themselves into — it’s not hypnotic exactly, but into where their brain gets used to moving from hearing that music, to working on that particular project.
“That’s the purpose of many of the rituals that creative people use. They’re not just superstitious fetishes: ‘I have to this particular pen.’ They serve a very real purpose in both loosening and focusing.”
Perry is author of the book Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity.
But there’s music and there’s noise.
Writer and visual storyteller Alan Moore (“V for Vendetta,” “Watchmen,” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) said, “I know there are some people who can apparently write with a roomful of people and a radio on and a television or stuff like that. I can’t imagine how they do it. I can’t have any sound in the room while I’m working. I can’t have anybody in the room with me.”
[From the bio Alan Moore: Storyteller by Gary Spencer Millidge.]
That quote comes from the post Noise and creativity by David Kilmer, which also notes that director Quentin Tarantino sued last year over his neighbor’s macaws “driving him to distraction.”
The suit said “Nearly every day Mr Tarantino and others in his home are subjected to the macaws’ obnoxious pterodactyl-like screams, which are not only startling, but have also seriously disrupted Mr Tarantino’s ability to work as a writer in his home.”
The neighbor, it happened, was Alan Ball, writer of the movie American Beauty, and creator of the TV series Six Feet Under and True Blood.
The suit said, “The defendants know that their birds issue blood-curdling, prehistoric sounding screams. Though one might assume that, as a fellow writer, Mr Ball would understand and respect a writer’s need for peace and quiet while he is working, that assumption would be wrong.”
Ambient background noise and creativity
A Phys.Org article reports on University of Illinois research by Ravi Mehta, a professor of business administration.
“We found that ambient noise is an important antecedent for creative cognition,” Mehta said. “A moderate level of noise not only enhances creative problem-solving but also leads to a greater adoption of innovative products in certain settings.”
The article explains, “Mehta and co-authors…explore how a moderate-level of ambient noise (about 70 decibels, equivalent to a passenger car traveling on a highway) enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the likelihood of consumers purchasing innovative products.
“Similarly, the researchers also studied how a high level of noise (85 decibels, equivalent to traffic noise on a major road) hurts creativity by reducing information processing.”
Mehta said they found an inverted-U relationship between noise level and creativity. “It turns out that around 70 decibels is the sweet spot. If you go beyond that, it’s too loud, and the noise starts to negatively affect creativity. It’s the Goldilocks principle – the middle is just right.”
Another aspect of this is your individual personality and degree of sensitivity. A sound level is just a technical measurement – not an emotional one.
A famous and widely-circulated quote of writer Pearl Buck includes her thoughts that “The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise…”
From my post Being Highly Sensitive, Being Creative.
If too much or the wrong kind of sound is affecting your ability to create, maybe you would benefit from noise cancelling headphones.