Noises Off

Francesca discovered that there’s more to creating a sound atmosphere for writing than simply listening to music.

Scene from a summer place.

Scene from a summer place.

I often use music to set a scene for myself when I’m writing. Sometimes this is because that particular music is being played in the scenario concerned (like Scheherazade, well loved by one of my characters). Often it’s because the music evokes the setting I’m writing. Songs like Gershwin’s Summertime and Theme from a Summer Place summon up long, hot summer days on the beach. Well they do for me. Apart from this, I’m someone who, on the whole, tends to like to work in quiet.

My daughter Giovanna, on the other hand, hates silence, preferring background noise. It doesn’t have to be music. She recently revealed she often studies to the sound of a cafe, or rain, a new idea in boosting productivity. I have relaxation CDs of nature sounds myself, rain, sea and so on. But cafes? It turns out there are many sites on the internet where you can listen to all manner of sounds. Now that, I thought, could be really useful in evoking a setting while I’m writing, so I did a little investigation.

Create the atmosphere of battle.

Create the atmosphere of battle.

For a start, You Tube is full of these ‘videos’. Some are on a loop, therefore not so satisfying, so you need to explore a little. They can be anything from an hour to eight hours long. Among the many I found were rain on a tent, a sailing ship on rough sea, a campfire, an echoing cave, office sounds, an airport, Hallowe’en and various Star Wars settings! There are many other sites offering these location sounds and it’s quite easy to google them to find one that suits you.

There are also several websites where you can mix your own sounds for a bespoke atmosphere. These include historical soundscapes such as battlefields and medieval scenes (one of which was an execution!). While useful, it’s tempting to spend rather too much time on these, investigating what they do. It’s probably better to stick with the ready made sound scenes they provide, of which there are plenty.

Right, I’m off for a cup of tea and the sound of a cafe…


Some links to get you started:

You Tube 1 hour coffee shop

Calmsound nature sounds

Ambient Mixer to make own ambient sounds

myNoise sound mixer

Noisli simple mixer


3 thoughts on “Noises Off

  1. What an interesting blog .On the whole I like silence when I’m writing, although complete silence is probably unattainable these days , unless you hide yourself in some kind of bunker, insulated even from the sound of birdsong.
    I can see that background sound can be a stimulus to the imagination, but I could never abide the sound of the human voice in my writing room.The only voices allowed are those in my head, and the characters’ noisy jostling for narrative space. The sound of the sea is always an attractive option, but it might set me daydreaming, and seascapes and marine metaphors might dominate my writing.
    I think I’ll stick to the maelstrom of clashing sounds inside my head.

  2. An interesting blog, Francesca. I’m not sure I could use manufactured sounds as the background to my writing in the same way that silence doesn’t work for me. Everyday sounds such as TV and radio – or the man at the end of my garden firing his cannon – I can work with. I do believe that an authors needs to be able to work in any situation as deadlines and word counts wait for no man. However, sometimes we need to listen to specific sounds for our work to be able to enhance a scene. I would then need the real thing wherever possible.

  3. Though I did it as a child at school, I can no longer work with any sort of background noise. However, I found your information about You Tube very interesting because it doesn’t have to be used while writing but can be used for writing. I love the sound of a thunderstorm or the noise of waves crashing on the shore. I’m sure there are many things that can be used as a catalyst, even if not at the actual time of writing.

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