Friends with benefits

No – not that kind!

The old idea of a writer labouring on alone in a quiet room has well and truly had its day. For a start, many of us like to write to music. The kind of music we choose might influence what we are writing, or it could simply be something we enjoy.

If it has vocals then I lose all concentration and sing along with the lyrics in my brain, totally distracted from the words I’ve been trying to write my story with. Instrumental stuff is fine - unless it’s an instrumental version of something I know well. Then I start singing along in my brain again…

I have friends who prefer to block out the rest of the world by wearing ear buds or headphones and lose themselves in the music. I have one friend who resorted to industrial ear protectors because other noises were so distracting to her. She wanted to lose herself in total silence.

I live on a really busy road with a school nearby. There tend to be traffic noises, enthusiastic yells from children, sometimes a hideous screech of brakes followed by loud hooting from the roundabout on the closest corner. And occasionally that’s followed by a police siren or an ambulance. I don’t leave my chair for the brakes, but a siren will have me whipping out of the front door to see what’s going on.

For choice I’m not a music-listener or a headphone-wearer while I write. Quite often couriers knock on the front door to deliver blinds and curtain rods or tracks for our business. I can’t leave them unattended, so I forgo silence in favour of my ‘other’ job.

And anyway, I enjoy the noise other people make. We had a team of painters from Thailand working next door for several weeks. That house now looks fantastic, and I was most intrigued by their working methods. Most kiwi tradesmen can’t survive without a radio blasting away while they work. Generally talkback radio or noisy rock music. The Thai team almost always worked without a radio, chatting away to each other and sometimes breaking into song. What a pack of darlings they were.

Being able to listen to the rest of the world means I sometimes steal a few words from someone’s conversation to include in a novel, too. All authors eavesdrop – did you know that?

But getting back to labouring in a quiet room… Email saves our sanity. I’m in constant touch with a team of friends. Sometimes it’s gossip. Sometimes it’s information. Sometimes it’s an opinion on a piece of writing we’ve sent them. Or sales figures, or promotional ideas. We talk and talk and talk, and this way we can do it at times that suit us. Sometimes it’s really good to see that little message come up on the corner of the screen. Great - a distraction from the paragraph I simply can’t get right. Sometimes I flick my eyes across to it and think ‘this is going well. She’ll have to wait.’

But not for long, because friends deserve attention – wherever in the world they are. And sometimes they’re ten thousand miles away.