Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The sounds of inspiration

 Rick's post got me thinking, so although I have nowhere near as storied a chair as he does, I decided to answer his question, but with a little twist. What is my favourite place for writing? Since I write longhand curled up in a comfortable chair, that place is usually the same comfy place that I read in. Even when I'm working on a computer, as I am now, I sit in my comfy chair and perch the computer on my lap. 

For me, writing is all about feeling cosy and relaxed so the muse will feel like visiting. In fact, there's more to that cosy, cocooned feeling than simply the chair. I need the sound of silence or the natural rhythms of nature. Some writers sit on a desk chair, hunched over their laptop at a table or desk. Still others write while standing up at the counter or balancing on a yoga ball. Some like the sound of the radio or TV in the background, and freeze up when there is nothing but silence. 

I can't imagine anything worse than standing up or having the radio chattering in the background. In fact, it would give me a headache in two minutes flat. Even something as soothing as Mozart would drive me to distraction. Those sudden chords and lilting runs would jolt me out of my writing zone.

I think all our brains are wired differently and need different types of stimulation to function optimally. And part of that may be what our brain has become adapted to. If you grew up with the TV or music on all the time in the background, that would be your brain's natural resting level of stimulation, and anything else would be uncomfortable. There are parts of the world that never know silence or stillness - large urban centres, for example, are always overloaded with the sounds of revving engines, construction, competing music, the flow of traffic and people, flashing signs, etc. People who grow up there may actually find silence and emptiness unnerving. Put them in the peace of a Canadian woods, and they want to turn on some music.

My sweet spot for writing and reading varies with the weather and my location. I have a lakeside cottage as well as a city house. The cottage is my favourite place because of the beauty of nature and lack of distractions and noise. In the summer, my perfect place is in my Muskoka chair on the dock, listening to the wind whispering through the trees, the loons calling, and the waves lapping against the dock. 

Yes, the dog is a distraction that has to be managed.

In the evening or in cooler weather, I migrate inside to my poang chair in the sunporch, which overlooks the lake. Even colder, and I curl up inside by the fire. I find peace and inspiration in water, fire, and the soothing green of trees. Primal stuff. In the city, my preferred place is outside on my patio  but it's hard to escape the lawnmowers, weed whackers, and screaming children nearby. In the winter, I have my love seat against the window, with one of my dogs curled up beside me. The love seat is so well-used, the cushion is almost destroyed. 

The quiet bliss of a good book
and a glass of wine.

So now I pick up Rick's question again, with this twist. What gives you inspiration? A comfy chair? Music? Silence? Nature? The chatter of a coffee shop? We all discover our own way to invite the muse.


Sybil Johnson said...

I write my first drafts long hand so I like a comfortable spot. I trade off where that is in the house based on where the noise is coming from outside. During our 9 1/2 years of construction on the block I learned to write with some noise around me. I also have noise cancelling headphones. when I was growing up, I did homework to TV shows. As I got older, I enjoyed silence for things I need to concentrate on. Now, I like a little music. Generally instrumental for writing. Usually something soothing.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Kindred souls, Sybil! I write my first draft longhand too, and what a mess it is. But that's how the muse works. I also have had years and years of construction noise around me, and what a nuisance that is. Even when they're not operating back hoes and jackhammers, they are shouting at each other. Few places have real silence anymore.

Susan D said...

Geez, Barbara, it sounds like we were separated at birth. The Muskoka chair, the dock, the patio. I forgot to mention when I responded to Rick the other day that my vintage Ikea chair is a Poang.

What's even better about Muskoka chairs are the wide armrests, perfect for holding the mug of coffee in the morning and the wine glass at 4:00.

But cosy chairs for me are more condusive to reading than writing, so I actually try to do serious stuff at my old wooden desk ($10 from Tiptop Tailor office clearance a million years ago) in my office when in the city, looking over the backyard and laneway; and at the old wooden table in the rustic sleeping cabin when at the cottage, which looks through the trees to the lake.

I am so blessed.

Rick Blechta said...

I was actually thinking of your dock and the Muskoka chairs when I was writing my post, Barbara, as I know you enjoy not only reading there but writing.

Since I taught band for a quarter century, my tolerance for noise and the ability to cancel it out has served me well, but it is more tiring and takes away a fair bit of energy. So while I can concentrate enough for writing through jackhammers, fire trucks and our "exploding" hydro station down the street, it is much less wearing to write through silence. Oddly I have difficulty with music playing because I can't help myself from starting to listen to it critically -- and writing goes right out the window.

As for where, give me a place where I can lay a computer keypad. I wish I could write longhand for extended periods, but being a lefty (non-politically speaking) I "push" the pen in front of my hand, rather than pulling it behind, and my hand tires far too quickly.

We have a good friend (and former musical colleague of my wife's) who has a two-storey log home north of Perth and it had a marvelous screened-in porch where I loved to write. Unfortunately, they added on to the house so that porch is long gone, but it was by far my favourite place to write or edit, listen to the abundant bird life and look down on the pond they dug out down the hill from the house. It was a little slice of heaven on a summer's day.