The blessed quiet: writing in silence

Allison Tait blog
Posted on April 29, 2015

silence and writing how to writeIf you’ve listened to my podcast with Valerie Khoo, you’ll know that we take a different approach to writing.

Val likes to write in cafes and other places that have what she calls ‘ambient noise’. She even went so far once as to buy this app, which recreates the sounds of a cafe for you.

Me, I like the quiet. The blessed quiet. I think it’s one reason that I still write late at night, when the house is in thrall to that deep, dark, black silence that only comes after a long, noisy day. When the boys are sleeping, and the cars are tucked up safely in their garages. The only other silence I can compare it to is the almost unbearable relief of the quiet when a newborn baby finally goes to sleep, and peace settles over the house like a thick blanket.

I have no explanation for my love of this kind of quiet, except that it’s so damn noisy in my head all the time. My thoughts are so loud, the conversations I have with myself so intense, the thinking about whatever project I’m working on or what’s next on my To Do list is so constant.

That kind of noise needs no competition.

Do you like silence when you write, or do you, like Val, like ambient noise?


  1. Lucia

    hmm, interesting question. I don’t think I could write in a cafe, as I’d be too busy people watching and getting distracted, but I do both-sometimes with tv on in the background (usually friends as I can tune it out, since I’ve watched it so many times), or music playing and other times no noise at all. Depends, as I’m new to writing-I don’t yet have a preference for how I do anything, but it’s interesting to hear what others do.

  2. Sam Stone

    I don’t mind either. Some days I like the quiet and others I like the noise.

  3. John Martin

    I quite like background music. I leave Deep Purple and ZZ-Top on the shelf but I wrote my first novel playing Van Morrison and Neil Young over and over. If anyone knows those guys, I have a business proposition to put to them. They can have an equal share of my royalties if I can have an equal share of theirs. That just seems fair.

  4. JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)

    I like quiet or soft background noise such as the TV down low. Depending on what I’m writing though, sometimes the mood calls for music to get me inspired. I’d love to be able to write in cafes, but I’m afraid I’d end up people watching or trying to avoid being recognised (not because I’m famous, but because I’m from a small town lol) 😉

  5. Chris Bailey

    Silence! Natural noises are fine–seagulls and crashing waves and barking dogs. But music with lyrics? No way. Lots a writers recommend creating soundtracks for writing–even soundtracks for different characters. Maybe I could learn that trick. But for the most part, discernible words (radio, TV, people at the next table) draw my attention away from the writing and into somebody’s else’s art/drama.

  6. Jennfer Johnston

    I am more partial to quiet but when its in the early stages of writing I’m happy to have the radio on for some background noise. I know I am easily distracted so I tend to remove all forms of social media devices from my sight, when I am in writing mode!

    Cafes are good as sometimes I feel writing at home is hermit-like – a sense of being a anti-social fiend sometimes, so being where people are helps me remove that feeling! My house is a den of noise and seemingly constant demands with three sons – but when they finally are asleep – I tend to get ideas for the next day.

  7. Cathy

    Absolute silence Allison and it is hard to find a space in the house that meets this need. Or if I can’t get away from my family I try to block out the background noise like the TV 🙂 My teenagers stay up as late as we do and I’m not a night owl, I’m a lark, I prefer mornings and function better. I am realising I need to snatch moments rather than great blocks of time to get some writing done rather than none.

  8. Kym Campradt

    I used to write in silence but since I’ve been working from home more, some days, depending on what I am writing, I have started listening to Noisli. The train with the horn blasting was a bit much but the thunder and rain worked well.

  9. Hamish Blair

    It depends on my mood, mostly I am like Val as I listen to the noises of cars and computer whirring. Then other times the silence is nice to think like at night and 5:30am.

  10. Annabel Smith

    Silence all the way! When my son was a baby, I couldn’t work at home. I worked at the state library and vehemently shooshed anyone who spoke too loud or too long.

  11. Rebecca Bowyer

    I don’t mind either as long as nobody interrupts me, that’s the crucial part.

  12. John James

    I like to write sitting on my lounge with the TV on and maybe some music playing with a cat or two snuggled up next to me…

    But when I edit, I prefer the quiet – I turn of the TV and the music and use noise-cancelling headphones…

    I think it’s because, when I’m writing – especially a first draft – I try not to think too much about what I’m doing – I just write and write and write…

    But when I edit, I need to really concentrate on what I’m doing and focus on the words and the story…

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