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I talked in the first week about Pavlovian responses to writing – setting up habits and spaces to make you feel that you are ready to write. Some of that is about reminding yourself that writing is a pleasure (my study has plants and flowers in it, a diffuser with eucalyptus, orange and bergamot oils, and, usually, a bowl of something tasty – lychees, salted caramels, tamari almonds…).

Some years ago, in a previous house, my neighbours had barking dogs. The neighbours left the house in the morning and returned in the evening. And all day, the dogs barked in protest. I spoke to my neighbours about it – but they never heard the dogs barking, so found it hard to believe that it could really be happening. Each day I became more frenzied in my attempts to shut the dogs up. I became obsessed. Each evening, I told my partner How the Dogs Ruined My Working Day and How Little I Got Done Because of the Dogs.

After a few weeks, my partner got bored and left a pair of industrial headphones on my desk. The kind tradies use when they’re jackhammering.

These headphones cradled my skull like a hug. And I could hear nothing.

These days, noise-cancelling headphones do the same thing: shut out the world, and create a warm hug for my head. I am like the salivating dog in Pavlov’s laboratory when I get a pair of snug headphones on: I drop down, like freediving, somewhere private and quiet. Ready to write.

Now, though, I often use music. Different books have required different soundtracks. When I wrote Storm and Grace – a novel about coercive control and violence set in the world of competitive freediving – I wrote every day to a soundtrack made up echoey chants, many of them by the electronica composer Julianna Barwick, others from Moby’s Ambient album.

When I started the next book – Fury – I tried to begin with that same music, which had worked so well for me before. It was terrible! So wrong. So I tried other sounds, eventually making a playlist made up mostly of Ludovico Einaudi, interspersed with some butt-kicking female vocalists (Florence Welch featured highly, as did the Australian artist Katie Noonan).

I often write in cafes – when I snuggle into my headphones and listen to Spanish music. If I’m stuck in a rhythm, bored with my own habits, my own pace – I change what I’m listening to. And by listening, I change the sound of what I write.

The comedian and actor Jo Enright – who I co-wrote a play with a million years ago – writes to the sound of pounding dance music or old-school rap. Jill Dawson wrote at least one book to the music of Dar Williams.

Today, try putting headphones on, and mixing up what you listen to. Write to the soundtrack of Loretta Lynn and see where that leads you. Then mix it up: write a scene accompanied by Metallica, or Massive Attack, or The Spice Girls. Try different sound tracks each day this week: let yourself be influenced by the feel of the music, let the music guide your writing rhythm.

Today’s prompt…


The woman crying in the next bathroom stall…
(after the poem by Kim Addonizio)