Skip to content

6 things you can stick in your ears to improve your writing

Iain Broome
Iain Broome
4 min read

There are many things us writers can do to tinker with our writing environment. We can write at a different time of day or we can use a different piece of writing software. The options are endless.
But I like to stick things my ears. And I’ll tell you why.

I live in a small cottage that has exceptionally thick walls, but ludicrously thin ceilings. That means that when another person is doing something – whatever it is – you pretty much know about it.

Here’s a list of sounds that make it hard to concentrate: talking on the phone, talking to a person in real life, watching the television, watching Desperate Housewives on the television, using a sewing machine, singing while cooking.

These are all perfectly legitimate activities in one’s own home. But when you’re trying to write, the noise from elsewhere can be distracting.

So I stick things in my ears.

More than muffling

Now I know that opening gambit implies that the only reason to stick things in your ears is to shut yourself away from the world. And that’s fine. My list covers that.

But actually, there are things you can stick in your ears that can seriously improve your writing in other ways too. And for reasons you might not expect.

1. Earplugs

Pretty straightforward considering what I’ve said so far in this post. But there’s more to it than you’d think.

Earplugs cancel out sound, that much is correct. However, they also transport you to another world. The world inside your head. You can almost hear yourself think. It’s mental.

Wearing earplugs is like being underwater. You can hear the faintest of sounds in the distance, but you can’t make them out. And you don’t care what they are because you’re lost in the moment. You’re somewhere else.

And that’s good for writing. Sometimes, even if I’m on my own when I sit down to write, I still stick earplugs in my ears just to get that sensation. True story.

2. Headphones (music)

A lot of people listen to music when they are writing. They say it helps them relax and allows them to focus. Other writers say the exact opposite.

I’m somewhere inbetween. While I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to write while listening to Megadeth or something else that’s suitably shouty, I’m quite capable of pumping out the words to a little Fionn Regan, Bon Iver or even The National.

If you’re not sure what you can handle, go with something ambient and instrumental, like Nightmares on Wax or Röyksopp. You can even pretend you like listening to classical music, if you like.

3. Headphones (audiobooks/podcasts)

You have to be a special kind of nutcase to be able to write effectively while listening to spoken word, but I believe it’s possible. Not by me, but certainly by some lunatics.

However, if you’re normal and can’t listen to words while writing them, you should still be listening to audiobooks and podcasts as a matter of course. Especially podcasts.

I can hugely recommend The Guardian’s range of writing-related podcasts, including the Books podcast, Front Row podcast and Digested Read. I also rather like the fiction podcast from the New Yorker. All very good.

In terms of podcasts from blogs, we have our very own right here on Write for Your Life, and I know Joanna Penn runs one on her site, The Creative Penn. Then there’s the Grammar Girl podcast too.

Writer Unboxed has some good tips if you’d like to create your own podcast.

4. Cotton Wool

You know that wonderful underwater sensation I described when i talked about sticking earplugs in your ears? Cotton wool is like that, only not quite as good.

It’s more children’s paddling pool than river glistening in the sun on a hot summer’s day. But still.

5. Your fingers

I know what you’re thinking. If you stick your fingers in your ears, you will not be able to hear the din from downstairs, but your ability to type might somewhat suffer too.

You’re absolutely right.

However, what if you didn’t need your fingers to type? What if you tried using some of this newfangled voice-to-text software that used to be absolutely useless but is now much, much better?

Then you could stick your fingers in your ears. You wouldn’t have to. But you could.

6. The sound of your own voice

You don’t have to be a complete egotistical maniac to be a good writer, but it helps.

Everyone talks about how you should read your work out loud to improve the rhythm of your writing and listen for problems. Heck, even I’ve suggested it for bloggers – although that was specifically reading to an audience.

Seriously though, how many of you actually record yourself doing it? Reading your writing, that is. It’s good to read out loud, but you’re effectively doing two things at once. Reading and listening.

Here’s a suggestion. Why not record your reading, then stick it in your ears and listen to it later? That will makes the whole process a whole lot easier, including the bit where you work out what could be improved.

What do you stick in your ears?

If you think post is a bit silly and rather tongue-in-cheek, you’re correctomundo. But the truth is, we’re hugely affected by our writing environment and it’s important that we experiment and get it spot on.

Come on, I must have missed a few things. What’s your writing environment? How do you block out the noise? What’s your favourite podcast? Let us know in the comments section below.

earsNew YorkerpodcastsProductivitysoundsspoken wordWriting

Iain Broome Twitter

I'm the author of the novel, A is for Angelica. Every week, I send Draft Mode, a newsletter full of tips and tools that help you improve your craft and promote your writing.

Related Posts

Small Product Lab days 8–10: Losing track and light launching

I start by telling you that the Writing Style Guide Starter Kit [] is now available to buy. I didn’t follow the exact Small Product Lab [] (SPL) guidelines in the last couple of days, but I did launch my product bang

Small Product Lab (Days 1–2): Deciding and planning

I’m taking part in Gumroad’s Small Product Lab [], which gives me 10 days to take an idea from just that to an actual thing that people can buy. I’ll be writing about the process here on my blog and this is my first

Albums to write to

Sometimes I write in silence but most of the time, I listen to music. Songs with vocals and actual words tend to be more difficult to write to, but it depends on how I’m feeling. My list here contains a good mix of albums that I turn to often