LawProse Lesson #425: Please do not disturb

LawProse Lesson #425: Please do not disturb

Ernest Hemingway was speaking a truth about all professional writers when he said, “You can write anytime people will leave you alone and not interrupt you.” That assumes you have something to declare. But the upshot is that in Hemingway’s view, it’s amateurish to wait on “inspiration.”

These days, you must have the discipline not to interrupt yourself when writing—to turn off your cellphone, silence your alerts, and avoid social media. (You can’t check the number of “likes” for your most recent post.) It’s not enough to have other people leave you alone: you mustn’t allow your own habits to get in the way.

One bad habit people have is listening to music while writing—especially music with lyrics. It creates cognitive interference. Last May, the Journal of Cognition reported on a study showing that music with lyrics hinders just about any kind of cognitive task. That’s hardly surprising.

Some people claim that music helps them write, and some of us at LawProse tried that for years. But the credible brain science we’ve seen belies the notion. The studies suggest that writers are most productive when working in silence. They support the view of Justice Ginsburg’s literary mentor, Vladimir Nabakov, who said that his ideal arrangement was “an absolutely soundproofed flat in New York, on a top floor—no feet walking above, no soft music anywhere.”

Hemingway would have agreed, but he might have added: no interruptions from the people in your life.

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