Monday, November 3, 2014


           It happens sooner or later to most writers.  The words are flowing out of your fingers nicely (in my case, only my two index fingers; I never learned to type) until suddenly you stub your knuckles on an invisible wall.  It’s been widely called writer’s block.  I've mentioned it here before.

          Attempted cures vary.  Some are quite effective, like looking at the calendar and realizing a deadline is disconcertingly close.  Some have damaging side effects, like wolfing bacon cheeseburgers.  Some are unarguably unwise, like booze.  A long brisk walk has worked for me in the past, simply by oxygenating my high-mileage brain, I believe.

          But my most effective blockbuster has been an early-morning hour or so spent with ballpoint and pocket pad in a local coffee shop called Kitchen on Trent.  Time after time it has jarred loose fresh ideas and gotten my  fingers moving on the keyboard again.  I thought it must be the quality caffeine or some magical secret ingredient in the low-fat peach muffins.  Not so, apparently.  Turns out my particular cure may be auditory rather than culinary.

          According to a University of Chicago study, background noise levels can have a remarkable effect on creativity, promoting mind-wandering, idea-generating thinking.  We automatically filter out ambient noise below 70 decibels (db), which suggests libraries may tend to make us more somnolent than studious.  Above 85 db, noise becomes dominant, irritating, and stressful.  However, between 70 db and 85 db there evidently lies a blockbusting sweet spot.  And that’s precisely the levels you’ll find in most coffee shops.

          Randy Wayne White has written large chunks of novels in Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille on Sanibel Island, Florida.  Now I know why his stuff is so good.  And it’s not the rum or the cheeseburgers.


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