22 February 2012

Music While Writing?

I mentioned a few posts ago about Stephen King's listening to music when he writes. I know people who listen to music while they study. Many arguments/debates have taken place between me and my children and between my college student peers and me on this subject.

They claim that they can concentrate BETTER with music or TV playing while they read and study. I have told them, and stick to this: the human brain is not capable of handling this efficiently. And this is especially true if there are vocals. Classical music may work for short periods, but the human voice is one of the most distracting sounds to other humans; so, if you are listening to music while reading, writing, or studying, you are in effect causing your brain undue stress by making it attempt to pay attention to two separate things at once. Not good.

Now, on to listening to music while writing. In some cases listening to hard and heavy music while writing is extremely helpful:
  • When your inner critic refuses to shut the hell up
  • When you are attempting to drown out other distractions
  • To increase your feeling of energy while you work
  • Because that Homeric Geek guy said I shouldn't

There are probably other reasons for listening to music while writing, but those are some that I have argued for.

On the other hand, it is a bad idea to listen to music when you are:
  • trying to work your way through a difficult plotting issue
  • trying to hear your characters' voices
  • writing at 3:00am and everyone else in your house is sleeping

Seriously, it is nearly impossible to truly give your undivided attention to deep issues while Ozzy is cranking in your ears. Dr. John Medina in Brain Rules states that it is actually impossible to multitask, which is what thinking and listening to music amounts to.

So, next time think about what you are attempting, then make an informed decision about cranking up the Metallica while writing....

14 February 2012

Attention Spans Are a Terrible Thing to ... to Something ... I Can't Remember

We should use technology to push our minds to new breadth and new depth. Don't simply give up on the old technology (such as books), especially at the expense of the attention span. Technology should be used to learn about new areas in which to spend more time thinking deeply. But, online reading, online browsing will change our brains to the point that we will have trouble thinking deeply; our attention spans will be incapable of handling that sort of pressure.

What will happen as fewer and fewer books are read; what will happen as fewer and fewer teachers and professors actually require students to read the books assigned? Nicholas Carr interviewed several people for his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains; people who were students, teachers, etc. One philosophy major stands out. He no longer reads actual books. How is that possible? Another interviewee states that he is no longer able to read War and Peace. (That may not be a fair example, because I know plenty of people who make that claim and it has nothing to do with attention span). For that person, Tolstoy's novel is too long and complex. That is disheartening. People are allowing themselves to be changed to such a degree, by reading online -- only online -- that they can no longer enjoy complex and tedious tasks. Their brains are changed. Literally.

Already, people are more impatient than they used to be, in general. (No, I don't have any statistics for that, it is a personal observation). Is that the kind of world we want to live in? A world filled with impatient people who are incapable of thinking deeply?

Think about it.... if you still can.

06 February 2012

Attention Contention

Publishers and editors seem to suffer from what appears to be adult ADHD (Disclaimer: I am not a psych doctor, so I can't make this diagnosis for real).  They press new writers to maintain constant tension for their potential readers; keep the pressure on, keep them turning pages; in other words, don't bore them with anything that might strain their weak, failing, meager attention spans.

It won't be long that novels will have to be the length of short stories and short stories will have to be one word that captures the entire emotional and psychological life of a character: e.g. Jesus wept.

I contend that we, as humans, as readers, as writers, have the responsibility to rebel against the publishers and editors, for the sake of our children and their children.  Attention spans are quickly becoming endangered and if something drastic is not done, will follow the Dodo into extinction.