I have often referred to my desire for total silence and lack of distraction when I write. My use of the double-world-blocker of ear plugs beneath a set of noise-cancelling headphones normally does the trick at home. But, away from home, I find I need it far less.
There is something about the gentle hum of a far-away-from-home coffee shop or restaurant that cancels out distraction by itself. The gentle, bubbling chatter of total strangers doesn’t suck at the ear, the unimposing, genial interior of such establishments offers very little to draw the eye away from one’s screen or notebook. They are fairly distraction free, despite the hubbub of people.
I discovered this during my recent trip to London. I could happily work in the hotel café without getting annoyed at the noise, the same too for the hotel bar and Bill’s restaurant beside the tube station. I realised that part of the problem is not the fear of being distracted. It is the fear of being interrupted.
At home, I lock myself indoors. I do not answer the phone unless the call comes from my children’s school, but the phone will invariably ring. I try to avoid answering the door, pray that a neighbour won’t knock and come in for tea, that the postman won’t require my signature. The coffee shops at home are lovely but small town. The result is that, within the first half an hour of sitting down to work, I am interrupted by a “hello,” from a friend. And even my best friend in the world would be unwelcome at such a time.
Whereas the city may not have the scenery that has given me such inspiration, nor the silence at a country setting, or the intensity of the clear, night sky, it does offer me a haven from this interruption. Space where niggling plot holes can be easily fixed, through sheer concentration alone, where characters can be filled out and made robust and prose can be spewed out at an alarming rate. The city is, I discovered this week, a super place to write a first draft.
A quiet Somerset living room, however, with a sofa, noise-cancelling headphones, muted phone and a locked front door, is the perfect place to polish.