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Music To Write By -- An Oxymoron
by Brian Plante

On most of the online writer hangouts, there is usually a place where the regulars discuss what type of music they like to listen to as they write. It seems that the music inspires them to write and sets a mood conducive to their storytelling. They argue whether Celtic or Light Jazz is better than Classical or Fleetwood Mac. These writers must be very different from me.

First off, let me say that I love music. Before I got into writing, I played guitar and keyboards in rock & roll bands, wedding bands, and one-man electronic studio bands. I have over a thousand vinyl albums and several hundred CD's in my collection. There was a time in my life when music was near the top on my list of important things. I don't pick up the guitar or bang on the piano too often these days, but I still love music dearly. That's why I can't listen to music while I write.

When I was in high school and college, I could multitask a lot better than I can today. I remember having both the stereo and TV going while I pored through textbooks and wrote my reports, and I did very well in school. I can't do that sort of thing anymore, at least not with my fiction writing.

No, when I write my stories these days, I prefer not to have the distraction of music, or TV or anything else going on. I get too deeply involved in the story to let the music intrude on my thought processes. For light editing tasks, or while I'm writing letters or e-mail, sure, a little background music never hurts, but to listen to music, real music, while I'm actively writing a story is nearly impossible.

I love music too much to concentrate on a story while it's playing. I listen to music, good music , very actively. Good music draws me in and insists I give it my full attention. Oh sure, there are some kinds of music that are not so demanding. There can't be vocals, since I might be tempted to actually listen to the words and the singer's voice. The instruments shouldn't be played too well, or the melody too haunting, or the production too flashy, lest I find myself listening intently. In other words, the kind of music that's okay for writing is the kind of music I don't like -- boring "background" music. Maybe that's okay for elevators and the dentist's office, but why bother?

I usually work in silence, or as close to it as I can get in a busy household with two kids and a wife, each one with their own music systems, televisions and computers. Sometimes it's tough tuning out all the noise. That's why I often write late at night on weekends when everyone is asleep and I don't have to get up early for work the next day.

When I'm brainstorming ideas or outlining the next story, I usually do it away from the computer at lunchtime with a pencil and paper. I often like to sit near public fountains, since the sound of the rushing water seems to drown out other sounds and focus my thinking. It's like those sound-generating gadgets people buy to help them fall asleep -- the white noise sound of rain or surf just seems to calm a person. That's a sound I can write to.

Recently, I've found a computer program that generates some interesting, non-distracting ambient sounds that are perfect to write to. The program is named Aire Freshener , and I'm listening to it right now as I write this. It comes with 33 stereo "environments" such as "Night Surf," "Crackling Fireplace," "Forest Stream," and (my favorite) "Country Road" that make a fine background for writing. I hear crickets and birds, rolling thunder and lapping waves, at near-subliminally low volume. There's even some customizeable windchimes that you can throw in on top of the nature sounds. When it's running, I'm hardly aware that it's even there, but it calms me down and lets me work longer at my keyboard without getting tense.

If you absolutely must, it even plays your CD's, right on top of the "environments." It also has an option to display an inspirational quote every day, and you can set up the different "environments" to run on a regular schedule if you really want to get that deep into the program.

I've been using Aire Freshener for about a month now, both at home and at work (where I have to remember to turn it off at night so I don't drive the cleaning people crazy with cricket noises in my cubicle). I am quite addicted to it. The best part is that it's free. Well, almost free. The author doesn't ask you for any money, there are no "nag screens" to make you register your name, and the program doesn't stop working after 30 days. The author calls his work "charityware," and requests that if you like the program, to please send a donation to The National CASA Association, a charity for abused children (and yes, I already have).

I don't know anything else about the author of this program, and I have no stake at all in it, but I like it a lot, and I'm going to keep using it. If you want calming background sounds for writing, or any other work you do on the computer, give it a shot. What have you got to lose?

You can download Aire Freshener from many of the usual shareware download sites, like ZDnet.

Gotta go now and change the tone on my wind chimes. Ahhhhhh.

Copyright © 2000 Brian Plante

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