Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

Background noise

Yes, I know it's been a long time since I last blogged. Sorry. Basically, real life gets in the way sometimes, and while I used to be able to sideline it and get on with the job, there comes a point where it isn't feasible and you have to tackle problems because there's nobody else to do it.

As a consequence I'm way behind on Black Run, and not so much because of the hours required to deal with the domestic issues but because of the way they rob me of concentration. When I write, I immerse, or else I can't get into characters' heads. You know all about that if you're a regular reader. An interruption – be it external, like a phone call, or an internal interruption like a nagging worry – throws me off for hours, and it's increasingly hard to get back into the zone every time. Writing a book is a very unnatural thing to do, so when my monkey-brain gets into the habit of waiting for the next real crisis to sort out, it's going to do the sensible thing and prioritise anything that might be Real Shit above Make-Believe every time, and the distractions it takes to make it do that can be incredibly trivial in the scheme of things.

So I've tried to reset my unjustifiably distractible primitive brain with various techniques. In the past, I'd filter out street noise by having the 24-hour news channels on. It was my newsroom atmos track, more like the kind of background chatter I was used to in an open-plan office, and there was a time when it enabled me to zone out better than silence. Now it doesn't. I might not be listening consciously, but my brain is probably still processing the content, and it seems to aggravate rather than neutralise. I can't tell if that's because my brain is already looking for trouble and can't ignore it, or if it's because the news has become such a vile blend of vacuous pundits and corrupt, lying scum recently that I'm drinking in the toxic content subconsciously and getting ready to erupt.

Anyway, today the TV backdrop was turned off for the first time in years. I've plugged myself into a specially designed soundtrack of orchestral music (lyrics are a no-no) that might as well be atmos. (One of the tracks you can choose is, in fact, the ambient noise from a cafe.) So far, it hasn't transformed me back to my old self, when I managed to write with workmen sawing and hammering in the same room, but I can sustain concentration a little longer than before. I have no recollection of the music itself and I don't pause to listen to certain parts of it. That might sound like a terrible and dismissive thing to a musician, but I'm coming to understand that music you don't notice is as valuable as pieces that stop you in your tracks and move you to tears.

We shall see. I'll give it a month and see if things improve.