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How do You Keep Writing Amid the Noise Around You?

Writing amid noise and distraction

Writing amid the noise of these covid times has been a challenge. Some of us have coped better than others–I might be somewhere in the middle, tearing my hair over an endless edit. The news cycle is overwhelming. Going into a cave is a privilege I can’t always afford.

The other day, I discovered a hack.

In between writing and editing sprints, I take breaks in my balcony–it is filled with green, but unfortunately overlooks a busy, noisy road. It wasn’t that way when we first moved in years ago, but Singapore is a tiny nation, and the number of tall buildings in my neighbourhood has grown by, I don’t know, 500 per cent? So these days I sit on my balcony, trying to enjoy my cuppa, watch the scyscraper-lined horizon, and centre myself. You know how that goes.

For quite some time, I was annoyed–at the roads for being so busy, at the number of people driving alone in their cars, at myself for being so helpless against traffic noise. I tried noise-cancelling headphones, and music. We can’t afford to move any time soon. A few days ago, I couldn’t find my headphones and it occurred to me that I could still hear bird calls someplace underneath the traffic. I wondered if I could close my eyes and zone in on them. So I did. And after a while, I heard the doves on someone else’s balcony, a flock of chatty parakeets talking to each other as they flew past, the black-naped yellow oriole that visits the garden below, and the shy little sunbird that flits from one balcony to another, feeding. The traffic noise seemed to recede, become a soothing background whoosh.

Yesterday, when I was sitting on one of these weird meditative breaks, I heard the sunbird loud and near, and thought I must be imagining it. It could not be on my balcony when I was sitting there. The second I parted my eyelids a little, I saw it flit off with a final cheep. That subird visits everyday. I call it the tooi-tooi bird, because that’s what it sounds like, declaiming in rising, staccato bursts, a call that is fragile, authoritative and celebratory at the same time. Its song remains the same: on days of sunshine and gloom—a reminder that life goes on, will go on with or without us. Its decibel level is all out of proportion with its small body, and that gives me faith. It flees at the slightest disturbance, which is why all my pictures of it are grainy, from behind the balcony’s glass doors.

It loves to suckle on the jasmine perennially in bloom, and hop about the moringa that offers a great perch–but in all these months and years, this was the first time it shared space with me, brash and loud within less than three feet of where I sat. It felt like an honour and a blessing.

The news cycle and social media are full of unpleasant noise these days. A lot of it is downright depressing. So much is vicious, even malignant distraction.

I wonder though if we could still hear snippets of ‘bird calls’ underneath all of these.

If we focus on what really matters, the world that continues in empathy and oneness, in complete indifference to the the angry, barren chaos we involve ourselves in, maybe we could hear it. Be one with it for a while. After all, each moment of our lives is defined by what we notice, where and how we choose to bestow our attention.

So what did you notice today? How do you keep living or writing amid the noise around you? Are you writing, editing, reading? Doing too many chores? How have you been lately?

Are you part of nay online or offline book groups? Founded any? What is the experience like? Do you think online book groups are similar to those offline?My debut literary crime novel,”You Beneath Your Skin,” published by the fab team at Simon and Schuster IN is optioned to be a TV series by Endemol Shine.

It is available in India here.

Worldwide, here.

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Pr@Gun says:

    I take a walk and look toward sky & trees. Somehow the silence nature shares is a solace in itself. It’s not easy to get rid of noises like I stay in large family so whole day its something or the other thing going on. I will be either referee to my kids or resolving a fight. But taking time to observer all around us helps,
    I’m glad you spotted the bird call amongst all noise. I try to feed birds with a bird feeder, watch shapes in clouds, even step out to walk and hug trees. Nature heals one just needs to be there.
    check out my tree hug post – You will find it unique but worth a try.

  • I write in the quietness of my apartment. The only sound is my cd player playing my music cds. Which is always a very welcome sound.

  • Vinitha says:

    That’s a nice trick to tune out the noises and tune in the voice of nature. In my home the noises are created by my kids and it is so difficult to tune them out. Like just now I had to stop typing to resolve a conflict between the two.
    Coming to the second point, the noise-bearers are increasing their volume to get our attention, but that never stops the ‘bird songs’ from being inaudible. We just have to tune out the noises like you did. Thought provoking read, Damyanti!

  • Mark Murata says:

    That sort of concentration keeps up your mental acuity, which is so important for writing. I’m not talking about keyboarding, but noticing details about how people act and talk. And yes, noticing birds too.

  • Denise Covey says:

    I can’t imagine living next to a noisy road, but it’s great that you’ve managed to find a hack that works. Luckily, the only noise from my office is the Pacific Ocean waves gently lapping.

  • DutchIl says:

    Thank you for sharing!!…how do I cope, you would ask?… well, I let my heart take the lead and follow it…. 🙂

    When Is The Right Time, One Would Ask….

    To climb a mountain
    To fly a plane,
    To hug a friend
    To run naked in the rain.

    To stand up tall
    To make your thoughts known,
    To blend with a crowd
    To go it alone.

    To till the field
    To sow the seeds of peace and more,
    To pen a poem of love
    To write a musical score.

    To take this path
    To maybe take the other,
    To open ones heart
    To share it with another.

    Today, tomorrow perhaps?
    The answer is in the heart, you see,
    So when is the right time, one asks?
    When your heart wishes for it to be..

    ( Larry “Dutch” Woller ).

    Until we meet again..

    May flowers always line your path
    and sunshine light your way,
    May songbirds serenade your
    every step along the way,
    May a rainbow run beside you
    in a sky that’s always blue,
    And may happiness fill your heart
    each day your whole life through.
    May the sun shine all day long
    Everything go right, nothing go wrong
    May those you love bring love back to you
    And may all the wishes you wish come true
    (Irish Saying)

  • My writing quiet went out the window with the virus, Damyanti. My husband is home full time and he’s noisy! I take breaks to replenish outside, to listen to the birds and the breeze through the trees. I’ve also learned to tune out the television (sort of like tuning out the traffic). Happy Writing and be well.

  • mbarron2 says:

    I really liked this post and the point you are making.

    I especially liked how you pointed out that “Going into a cave is a privilege” we can’t always afford. Most of us can’t.

    I sometimes do focus too much on the horrible things in the world but use meditation and running to try to work through it. Thank you for the great post.

  • Jayanthy G says:

    I find myself at a calmer place now. I’m surrounded by the noises of happiness. That’s soothing at the moment. After staying a long time amidst noise, this is my welcome change. I am glad to write every now and then, also take up a course I’ve been thinking for a while since lockdown. Finally, I appreciate the power of silence.

  • I believe, whatever we choose to focus on, finds its way to us 🙂
    Perhaps, your intention and delight is what brought the chirping sounds to you, and later, some actual visits too.
    I am currently going through a major overwhelm, and I find sitting outside, minus gadgets to be deeply calming and centering. Even the green looks greener!

  • Shalzmojo says:

    I have these moments too Damyanti and am happy to note bird chatter beneath it all too. I have a bowl of water and some bird feed on my balconies since ages now. Apart from the flying roaches which have infested urban landscape torridly, I get the doves, babblers, sunbirds, robins, sparrows, barbets, parrots and the occasional treepie too – Its humbling to note their visits and I do feel fortunate for this. Like you, I havent been lucky in capturing them on my camera, unless when I stepped down to the road and shot with my DSLR – I got the parrots and Barbets this way as they had become regular visitors for some months.Nature is a big healer for me and now that the weather has cooled down a bit, I am planning on being back at my morning walk routine with a vengeance.

  • Cheryl says:

    My home is the only haven I have but now that my husband is retired there is juggling between keeping him company and writing. That is the most difficult time for me. I know why so many writers end up divorced. I always choose him. Why my book is not complete yet after 6 years. But I am SO close! 😉

  • Rachna says:

    I like how you have found what works for you and tried to cut out the noise. I guess we are all trying to figure out what works for us while being connected and managing this Covid situation. I wish you peace and calm.

  • Shailaja V says:

    This was both soothing and delightful to read, Damyanti. I love your practice of centering yourself amidst the chaos. For my part, I find social media rather overwhelming and exhausting. Blogging and my newsletter, on the other hand, give me boundless joy and I eagerly look forward to writing and blogging regularly these days. I’ve taken a rather serious decision going forward on my blogs and I am not sure how it will pan out exactly, but I believe it’s the right time for it to happen. Wishing you many more days of peace and tranquility on your balcony while you listen to your sunbird and stay in the zone.

  • Pam Lazos says:

    Like Nike, you just do it! ;0)

  • bikerchick57 says:

    Finding meditation and peace in bird songs is so therapeutic. Even though Costco built it’s behemoth store a few years back and took away a farmer’s field that held hordes of geese, ducks and sandhill cranes during the summer, I can still hear them over the delivery trucks in the morning. There’s a small strip of land they still come to for feed. It’s been moments of peace and joy since socially distancing at home, a joy that will disappear with winter. Then, I will have to replace the calming of the bird songs for the sound of two felines who alternately snore and cry for attention, along with my own continued gratitude and empathy to write and hope for a calm and peaceful future.

  • Esha says:

    So glad you found your peaceful space amid all the noise! I am struggling and I know how that feels, Damyanti. Learning to focus on what matters is the key.

  • Bless the birds and you being able to fall back into your peaceful space. I too have a fair bit of traffic noise and like you, find that if I letit fall back, I can hear the birds and feel the breeze. <3

  • waynemullane says:

    So glad you could find a way to switch off. This was such a thoughtful post.
    I’ve found that I’m able to write in shorter bursts these days (lots of poems). I need to get back into editing my hiking book in longer sessions soon – hopefully by building myself up I’ll get more committed again.
    Hope you have a good day 😊

  • Glad you found a way to tune out the noise – and you have a bird who visits to help with that.
    I just avoid the junk online, especially news sources who spew hate and fear constantly, trying to keep the masses in turmoil.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – I’m so pleased you’ve worked out the way to get some peace, despite the upheavals of noise and information all around us. It’s something I must do and take the opportunity as another six months of challenges lie ahead … I aim to get there … I live in a relatively quiet area – but not quite quiet enough – so need to take the time to slip underneath the radar of everyday noises … and set my day up. I’m fairly fortunate … I don’t struggle and thus can cope with life around me. Take care – and all the best with your writing and promotion … Hilary

  • Rosie Amber says:

    Great tips for noise blocking. I am lucky that I am close to woodlands, but feel for those who don’t have this opportunity.

  • setinthepast says:

    Traffic noise and my neighbours’ horrible barking dogs do my head in, but I’m OK with music playing.

  • Tarang says:

    Beautiful and thoughtful piece of writing. I love silence. I can’t stand noise. It makes me cranky and too restless. And yes, we should focus on what really matters.

  • Lovely post, Damyanti. Hearing and seeing birds living their lives amid human noise is a hopeful sign. I live in a fairly quiet suburb and have come to recognize the sounds of several types of birds that are always around, from hummingbirds to crows and ravens. Reading is a welcome distraction from the terrible news that comes almost every day. I read mostly indie authors these days; sometimes I think I’m growing out of touch with mainstream fiction!

  • soniadogra says:

    I am a small town person. Id been blessed to escape the noise for quite a few years. Until I moved to Delhi this year and what a time! Literal noises, yes they’ve been there but even figuratively I’ve felt inundated by these noises. As you said the cacophony of social media has been depressing. I’ve tried to keep away but something or the other gets on to you, doesn’t it? I’ve reduced my writing but I haven’t completely stopped. Actually it isn’t do much about the noise outside of me that causes spurts of anxiety. I guess it’s the noise in the inside of me. The world is so depressing nowadays that I don’t know how to put it in words. Nonetheless, I find ironic respite in the fact that despite the pandemic and the increasing discrimination and the violence, we have enough time to bicker and do some of the nonsense stuff. It gives me a laughable hope that man can find enough means to survive in the most unlikely situations too. Could it be a kind of survival strategy? Maybe.

  • Noise, literal AND figurative does my head in.
    I do my grocery shopping in the ‘quiet hour’ each week. At home I rise early (obscenely early says the other resident) and revel in the predawn quiet. And in the calls of the waking birds.

  • After living in Mumbai with people in motion 24/7 I found Singapore to be relatively quiet. During the rebuilding at 800 Thomson Road we moved corporate housing to Shan Mansion multi floor apartments bought for that purpose temporarily and headquarters business moved to Suntec City. Shan Mansion was sold and I’m told the new owners demolished it to build an even higher building. Singapore is constantly reinventing itself. I did not find the traffic and street noise distracting. You learn to block that out and concentrate on what has your attention. When I do get the writing bug I’m lost in the developing story and nothing can distract me. 🙂

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