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Have You Ever Sat and Worked Amid a Crowd?

Do you ever sit and work in the middle of a crowd? Does background noise distract or energize you?
There’s something about working at a food court, right amid the thick of a suburban shopping mall, watching people go about their lives as you type.
 
So much of writing Is about being quiet and remaining the spectator, making observations, letting the inner voice make its relentless commentary, and observing that too.
 
In a strange way, after a while, the buzz all around becomes a cushioning white noise. The restless chatter inside dies down, and the narrator dictates the story.
 
All you have to do then is take it down, and each time you need to pause and regroup, there are the people around you in their motley garb: chattering away into their phones or to each other, the distant drone of announcements, the escalators making their quiet endless way up or down.
 
And there, you’ve got a scene, or an entire chapter.
 
When I say ‘you,’ I mean me, of course. I’m sure very few writers find the hubbub of a crowd comforting as they write. For me, I never feel as isolated, protected even, than when surrounded by people who take no notice of me.
 
When I leave Singapore, I’ll perhaps miss this ability to sit alone more than anything else, because back in India the past few months, it was almost impossible to wander around without the feeling of being watched, judged, and found wanting. Maybe it was me, maybe it was my country. Or, it could be the way I related to my country. Who knows.
 
For now, here I am, and here’s my story. Break-time spent, back to the world of make-believe I go.
This ended up as a social media post, and seemed to resonate with readers, so I thought of sharing it with you all today.

Do you ever sit and work in the middle of a crowd? Does background noise distract or energize you?


My lit crime novel, The Blue Bar will be out soon with Thomas & Mercer. It is already available for preorders. Add it to Goodreads or pre-order it to make my day. I’m so grateful for all the support so far–nearly 4,000 adds to Goodreads, 4 months before publication.
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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 forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be 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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34 Comments

  • Matt says:

    This is a test comment to verify whether or not comments can be left.

  • Natasha says:

    I love sitting outdoors at a cafe and working. My productivity does go up, despite the humdrum.
    But I haven’t done that in a long time now.
    That apart I love working in a park surrounded by all of nature and greenery. Once again the productivity goes up manifold.

    Understand your feeling of being watched/judged here in India. But in big cities things are different. And I know even in the smallers ones the change is happening, slowly but surely. 🙂

  • cleemckenzie says:

    I have a favorite coffee shop that I sometimes work in. At first, I’m distracted, but I soon settle in and actually get some writing done.

  • Pamela says:

    I’ve done so years ago in doctor’s offices or even at work during my lunch hour but some co-workers were paranoid and assumed that I was writing about them (I wasn’t). I did it then because it’s when I had the time to write.

  • Pam Lazos says:

    I actually love doing this but haven’t made the time to do it in sooooo long. Thanks for the reminder, D.

  • I really doubt that I could work in the middle of a crowd. I have a hard time with noise when I read!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      lol, I can imagine. I can’t read amid noise, either. But I can write!

  • shilpa says:

    I find it difficult to concentrate with people around. I prefer silence. But, I do love to observe people when in a crowd. I haven’t used anyone in my writing, as yet. May be some day 🙂

  • I use crowd watching as a hobby not a work station. 🙂

  • Sonia Dogra says:

    I used to. Since the pandemic, it just kind of vanished.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Yeah. I’ve begun writing/ editing outdoors only this month after my return from India.

  • Jemima Pett says:

    I’ve not written in a crowd, but I have done paintings, including on holiday. You get people looking over your shoulder, but I can cope with that. I never notice the noise, I sort of lose myself.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      yeah, exactly. Losing myself is exactly what it feels like.

  • DutchIl says:

    Thank you for sharing!!.. I think it is a matter of the heart… some days it wishes to be alone, to contemplate the tomorrows, to visit memories stored there…. and some days it wishes to be among others, to wonder what their destiny may be as each and every one is unique, to learn more about life… 🙂

    Hope your heart is filled with happiness and until we meet again….
    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)

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      True, Larry. The heart is inconsistent. Some days it only wants to be alone.

  • cassmob says:

    I don’t like being surrounded by crowds or the associated noise. Having said that, I can see the opportunities for observing people and gaining inspiration.

  • No, I don’t work among crowds. Crowds make me tense and agitated. I avoid them as much as possible.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I live in one of the most densely populated city-states in the world, so crowds are a part of my life. I do escape to parks and beaches though–we have many of those here. Sitting at a restaurant, watching the crowds mill about is a different thing, though.

  • I find crowds confronting and difficult. I am a people watcher (and to my shame an eavesdropper) but couldn’t work in such an environment. I am very glad that you can and do.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I do find crowds difficult, too, but only if I’m standing or walking. If I’m sitting at a table, and the world passes by, it is a bit of people watching and eavesdropping from a safe distance!

  • JT Twissel says:

    I’m too curious about other people to work amidst a crowd!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I’m curious, too, but seems like I can switch it on and off. It becomes like the pomodoro method, Sprints of writing followed by spaces of distraction.

  • hilarymb says:

    No.oooo …!!! I prefer quiet … I get distracted too easily. But I’m not writing a novel … good luck to all who can! Cheers Hilary

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I get distracted at home, somehow. But the minute I sit at a chair outside home the only thing that distracts me is back aches if it is a poorly designed chair.

  • Denise says:

    I overhear conversations that end up in my writing!

  • I’ve never done that, Damyanti, but you make such a good argument for it. I can’t wait to try sitting there, surrounded by the energy, buffered by my anonymity…

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      It is a good experiment for sure–keen to hear how it turns out for you, Jacqui!

  • I always write amidst chaos. I totally agree with you.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks for stopping by, and cool to meet another writer-amidst-chaos!

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