Try This: It's Worth a Shot
Something Better Than Silence?
Systematizing the writing process or whatever floats your boat…
Toward the end of my days at Freightliner I’d moved up to technical writing. Not to boast, but I held the lofty title of “Service Documentation Specialist, Sr.” This involved desk work one day, then work in the mechanical shop the next. We’d tinker with trucks, then write about it. Freightliner headquarters featured the “veal fattening pens,”1 a maze of office cubicles, each containing a desk and chair.
To suppress noise, overhead speakers played a constant white noise. Like fish in water, we never took note of the hushed noise, like a librarian constantly shushing us. Maybe once in a decade something would happen. Everyone would stand and look around the expanse of the building, meeting the confused eyebrows of other office workers. At last, someone would say, “Relax. It’s the white noise. It’s stopped.” In a beat the noise would begin again, and we’d all sink back into our chairs.
It was under the influence of this noise that I wrote so many of my first stories, including the genesis story for Fight Club. To this day my best ideas seem to pop when I’m taking a shower or washing dishes. It was the feel of the water, I’d figured. Then, while on tour in September, I stayed at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. Photo above.
The hotel provided a white-noise machine in my room. I switched it on, and never switched it off until I was packing to leave. Every moment I spent in the room I sat in bed drinking coffee and writing or revising. A productivity that echoed my bored desk days at Freightliner. Since the Driskill, I wonder if it’s more the white noise of the water—and the bathroom fan—that brings out ideas in the shower. Likewise, when I write next to the wood stove—as I’m doing now—a large fan whirs, blowing the warm air around the room. Again, more white noise.
Writers are notorious for trying to create sure-fire systems for their creativity. Check out this from the New York Times. To find silence in Paris, Proust had his bedroom lined with cork. With mixed results, according to the book Page Fright. It seems the noise of the city still intruded, but maybe absolute silence isn’t the goal.
In silence, any single sounds stand out. While in white noise, we’re placated with the drone and less susceptible to the occasional laugh or squeak. Or thing that goes bump in the night.
During my recent hypnosis sessions, the hypnotist plays water sounds as white noise. He’s sent me the following paper on the subject. Who knew there were so many different colors of noise?
People use white noise, green noise, pink noise, and brown noise for various reasons, including:
1. Sound Masking: White noise is commonly used for sound masking purposes. It helps mask or drown out background noises, such as traffic sounds or conversations, by providing a constant and consistent sound. This can be particularly useful for promoting sleep, concentration, or relaxation in noisy environments.
2. Sleep Aid: White noise, pink noise, and brown noise are often used as sleep aids. The steady and soothing sound can help create a more peaceful and consistent sleep environment by masking disruptive noises and promoting relaxation.
3. Relaxation and Meditation: Green noise, pink noise, and brown noise are sometimes used for relaxation or meditation purposes. The gentle and calming nature of these noises can help induce a state of relaxation, reduce stress, and enhance focus during meditation or mindfulness practices.
4. Tinnitus Relief: Pink noise is sometimes used as a form of therapy for individuals with tinnitus, a condition characterized by ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears. Pink noise can provide relief by masking the perception of tinnitus sounds and reducing their impact on daily life. It's important to note that the effectiveness and preference for different types of noises can vary from person to person. Some individuals may find white noise more effective for their needs, while others may prefer the characteristics of pink or brown noise.
Experimentation and personal preference play a role in determining which type of noise is most beneficial for each individual.
• White noise is a random signal that contains equal energy at all frequencies within a specified range.
• It has a flat frequency spectrum, meaning it has equal power across all frequencies.
• Examples of white noise sources: White noise generators, recordings of static or hissing sounds, fans or air conditioners unintentionally producing white noise.
• Green noise is a type of noise signal that has more energy in the lower frequencies compared to higher frequencies.
• It is produced by modifying the frequency spectrum of white noise to boost energy in the lower frequencies.
• Examples of green noise sources: Equalizers or digital signal processing techniques applied to white noise, recordings of nature sounds with emphasis on lower frequencies.
• Pink noise is a type of noise signal that has equal energy per octave, meaning it has more energy in the lower frequencies compared to higher frequencies.
• It is often described as having a "hissing" or "rushing water" sound.
• Examples of pink noise sources: Pink noise generators, recordings of waterfalls or rain, certain musical instruments like the wind instruments.
• Brown noise, also known as red noise or Brownian noise, is a type of noise signal that has more energy in the lower frequencies compared to higher frequencies.
• It has a decreasing power spectral density, meaning it has more energy at lower frequencies and less energy at higher frequencies.
• Examples of brown noise sources: Applying a filter to white noise that gradually reduces energy as frequency increases, recordings of thunderstorms or heavy rainfall, certain synthesizer settings. It's important to note that the examples provided are not exhaustive and there can be variations and different methods to produce these types of noises.
There have been numerous scientific studies conducted on white noise, pink noise, and brown noise. Here are a few examples:
1. Study on White Noise for Sleep: A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine in 2005 examined the effects of white noise on sleep quality. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, involved 12 healthy young adults. They found that white noise improved sleep quality by reducing the number of awakenings during the night.
2. Study on Pink Noise for Memory Enhancement: A study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2017 investigated the effects of pink noise on memory consolidation during sleep. The study, conducted by researchers from Northwestern University, involved 50 participants. They found that exposure to pink noise during sleep enhanced memory performance in a word recall task compared to a control group.
3. Study on Brown Noise for Relaxation: A study published in the journal Applied Acoustics in 2010 examined the effects of brown noise on relaxation and stress reduction. The study, conducted by researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, involved 40 participants. They found that exposure to brown noise led to greater relaxation and reduced stress levels compared to silence or other types of noise
It would appear that pink noise—for memory consolidation and word retrieval—floats my boat. Therefore I’ve asked Santa Claus to bring me a white-noise machine. It’s either that or go back to Freightliner.
I wonder who has my old phone number now…
This past summer I shooed you away from renewing your paid subscriptions
Well, for better or worse, I’m back. I invite you to re-up at this time. My work with hypnosis as well as my long talks with Ira Levin’s son have stoked me with ideas. Those include revisiting the “Gloves Off” critiques, and traveling with Suzy Vitello to conduct weekend workshops.
If you can afford it, please renew your paid subscription. Each ten weeks when we shelled out our $2002 to Tom Spanbauer it hurt, but that investment kept us producing work. Until the Covid lockdown I’d rented a very small office for $200 per month. I seldom used it, but when I did I got reams of good work done. These days I look back on the money I paid Tom and thank the stars that I even had that opportunity to be part of a group that gave me an entirely new life.
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The term coined by Doug Coupland in “Generation X” to describe office cubicles.
According to the Inflation Calculator, that $200 in 1990 would be $470.80 in today’s money.