Concentration Aids: Ambient Sound

 Image from Ambiance.

I like to regularly turn my attention to the concrete aspects of the writing trade; you can find past reviews and reflections in my writing tools category. This week I’d like to offer some great writing tools for ambient sound. Writers seem to be all over the map in their opinions about what to listen to, if anything, while writing. I know writers who wear sound-canceling headphones while writing, insisting on only the deepest silence. I know writers who listen to loud crashing music. And I know writers who listen to quiet music, music without lyrics, or less rhythmic concentration aids. Personally, I find a completely blank silence to be almost as distracting as loud music or people talking. I like to feel like I’m observing the world, listening to the normal sounds of existence: rain on the window (a personal fave for a pensive mood), low traffic noise, even the hum of a refrigerator. What do you choose to hear when you write?

There are many ambient-noise tools out there for people like me, and I’ve reviewed several of them in the past. There’s the simple, highly effective, which offers a long, high-quality audio loop of rain sound. There’s the versatile Naturespace, which has a whole library of ambient nature tracks. Naturespace was originally for the iphone, but now you can also purchase audio files to play on your desktop computer; I love their rain and wind audioscapes.

Then there’s a great tool that I’ve only mentioned in passing, Buddha machine. Inspired by concentration aids used by Buddhist monks, this iphone app or website offers nine different audio loops that sound a little unearthly. If the buzzing and cawwing and whooshing of nature tracks is too much noise for you, Buddha Machine might be the right option for you; it’s singular, contemplative, and often soothing without being overly captivating.

I’ve stumbled across other ambient-noise apps, like Ambiance, which offers an enormous library of different kinds of ambient sounds. You can choose from a huge stock of nature sounds, or even urban and interior sounds, like footsteps in a museum or single piano chords.

So let’s hear your opinion, readers: what do you think about ambient sound? What do you want to hear while you’re writing?


  1. mary brady says:

    I don’t listen to anything when I write or do art. Music is out–way too distracting. I find once I get into what I’m doing, I don’t mind the quiet. There are, of course, the ambient sounds of my dogs barking & me yelling, “SHUT THE $%## UP” prior to going out & dragging them in off the deck. (They don’t know what $%## means.)

    Mostly, though, I just start doing my thing & I’m lost in it after four minutes or so.

    I’d totally freak out listening to a loop of footsteps in a museum. It might help me write a scary horror story, I suppose…

    The hum of a refrigerator??? You can BUY the sound of a fridge on the fritz? Good Lord. I am reminded of a cartoon that showed a young couple lying wide awake in their double bed in their little apartment–the crappy kitchen could be seen through their bedroom door. The caption was:

    “Do not ask for whom the refrigerator hums; it hums for thee.”

    L&K, MaryB (I checked out the Buddha machine long ago when you first mentioned it. I thought about getting one. But that would have required effort. I’ll check it out again & see if I feel peppier about ordering it.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *