Thanking the barrister, I sit down with my double chocolate chip, coconut cookie and open my laptop, punching the Wi-Fi password with flare. I’m ready to work. My notebook, stuffed with hand-written sentences, crossed out and re-written to almost illegibility, is beside me. My iPod is fully charged with my favourite instrumental, not-too-distracting-music. My fingers are warmed up from cradling my mug of freshly brewed earl grey… and I open twitter. A half-hour goes by and I end up crossing things off my list, answering emails slightly past due, writing a blog post, checking pub-related news, but the word count to my novel remains the same.
The café was certainly productive, just not in the way I needed it to be.
A couple days later, I find some time during the weekend to sit with another mug of tea—apple cinnamon this time—warming my fingers at my home desk. The house is quiet. I have no pressing need to leave suddenly to meet with so and so, or do that thing I’ve been meaning to do, and decide to try and write. I’m on my second last chapter, and I start typing.
It was agony. Words typed, deleted, retyped again. Sentences half-formed before scrambling my mind. Fingers grip at my hair, I pace the small room, mull over what it is I want to say…and write almost 1500 words in two hours. Not bad.
This seems like a good argument for answering this week’s question in favour of quiet spaces for productivity. However, both places—café and home office—brought about a level of productivity for different projects.
Useful Science, a website and podcast dedicated to explaining scientific findings that can help you out in everyday life, talk about a very useful study on ambient noise as part of their eleventh podcast episode. You can listen to it here; it’s fascinating. The study, Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition, takes a look at three different noise levels and its effects on productivity and creativity. They measure it like so:
- 50 dB (at the level of quiet home conversation)
- 70 dB (at the level of a vacuum cleaner)
- 85 dB (at the level of a blender)
What they found is that at 70dB, the moderate level, participants demonstrated an increase in creativity. They go on to explain, however, that this creativity is best likened to brainstorming. When you need to think abstractly and seek multiple options for an answer, a little bit of background noise is great for you. But when it comes to direct focus to, let’s say, write your chapter, it can be counter-productive.
Take what you want from the study, and from my own experience, what you want, but for me, my best words seem to come from silence (or as I’m trying to fall asleep). In a quiet place, my focus is forced to stay on topic. But I also find this exhausting. Those 1500 words were forcibly pulled from my brain and reworked until I was practically gnashing my teeth in frustration, and I’m still not happy with what I accomplished. What makes me curious is what I would have written had I actually worked on my novel in Rick’s Café rather than answer emails or surf twitter. Would I have been happier with my sentences? Would I have written less? More?
What about you? What have your experiences told you about where you are most productive? Is this something you even stop to think about? Let me know in the comments below.
For this week’s question, I have to thank the lovely people who create the Useful Science podcast. It was their segment on ambient noise that got me thinking and led me to try writing in Rick’s Café in the first place. Next week’s question:
What other artistic pursuits do you practice? Extending the creative process and its benefits.
Do you have a question you’d like me answer? Each Thursday I’ll be posting a question and answer that relates to writing and creativity. I would love to answer your questions, silly or serious. Message me, or drop your question in a comment on the previous week’s blog post and maybe yours will be the one I answer next!