Is there anything more stereotypical than a writer sitting in a coffee shop? There they sit, laptop open in front of them, typing away at some report, novel, or proposal while the sounds of coffee mugs, steaming milk, and the low hum of patron chatter buzz around them. The stereotype is so prevalent that there are YouTube channels dedicated to coffee shop ambience sounds to simulate the coffee shop experience without leaving your home.
Is there something about a coffee shop that stimulates the writer’s brain? The coffee? The people watching? Or does it have something to do with the sounds? While coffee is delicious and people can be inspiring, we suspect the sounds keep our brains focused on the task at hand.
Research indicates background music can increase cognitive performance based on the kind of music and one’s personality. According to the Harvard Business Review, creative extroverts will see a performance bump when they listen to music, though introverts may find it distracting. Background or ambient music can cover other noise interruptions that could distract us. We’ve all been stuck sitting next to the coworker who seems to think they’re auditioning for The Voice or down the hall from someone with the noisiest keyboard known to mankind. Background music can dull those noises, making it easier to relax and focus on the task at hand.
We asked our Scriptorium team members what they like to listen to when writing or editing and created a curated list of stimulating background sounds to add to your collection.
I like to listen to lo-fi, a music genre with relaxing rhythms, low hums, and environmental noise when I work. I especially like lo-fi video game music, such as this Nintendo lo-fi playlist on YouTube. I like soft music with no words and a beat so I can focus the language-processing part of my brain on the writing task.
For me, what is playing in the background depends on the project. When editing and technical writing, I need quietness, except if I'm reading aloud. When formatting, I may have the TV or radio on for noise; otherwise, the clocks in my home office seem too loud. When creative writing, I create a playlist for each of my projects. All it takes is a few chords of familiar music to transport me to its assigned fictional world and wherever I had left off in that particular story. And because life can be busy and I like to mix it up, there are times that I am working with arena, restaurant, campground, park, or other such noise in the background.
When I'm editing, I like silence. If there's too much going on in the background, I can get very distracted. When I'm writing, though, it's the opposite. Depending on the subject, it's either whimsical, classical music, classic rock, or podcasts.
I listen to a podcast or a TV show in the background while I work. If I’m doing some creative writing, I need silence.
I have tinnitus so silence doesn't work for me. When I need to concentrate, I listen to the Bridgerton soundtrack because it has no lyrics which makes for good background tracks. When I am working on non-writing projects like formatting, design, and accounting, the rhythm of the Total Party Kill D&D podcast is a good steady background sound that I can tune into once in a while. It's slow-moving and doesn't require my full attention.
Adding background music or ambient noise is one way to customize your workspace to support your productivity. And if silence is your style, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs are sure to give your brain the sensory deprivation you need. Whatever way is best for you, we recommend being intentional about your background noise. Science says those sounds can help, or hinder, your workflow.
Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas. (2022, September 13). "Can Music Make You More Productive?" Business Harvard Review, Ascend. https://hbr.org/2022/09/can-music-make-you-more-productive
@jokabibeats. (2022). "Chilltendo Deluxe." GameChops, YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5V-qL1HRho
"Total Party Kill." The Incomparable: Pop Culture Podcasts for Nerds & Fans. https://www.theincomparable.com/tpk/