Listening for a squawk

A guy I know once said the only way you’ll know an idea is right is by feeling it’s right. You have to feel it in your gut. Sure, there’s stuff you have to factor in (like the brief) but that should give way to the voice, the part where you sit and listen and wait for something to get said. To hear this voice you need some quiet. Well, I do anyway.

What’s so difficult about quiet? A shit load, apparently. In any given day we could have 100 things to do. There’s coming up with ideas, signing stuff off, going to meetings, giving direction and loads of other things that only crop up the moment they present themselves (naturally enough). Each of these individual tasks make a little bit of noise, together they can make a lot of noise and sometimes you can’t hear one thing clearly because too many are making noise at once.

Sometimes this is fine. It’s a busy industry, work needs to get done and, in its defense, noise gets things done. That said, the more of it you hear, the harder it is to hear any one thing clearly. When making a piece of communication, you want the whisper that rang true, the little voice you heard, to be heard by your audience. To do that it’s important you can hear it yourself, otherwise, how is anyone else supposed to?


So, what do you do? You’ve got to be possessive about your quiet. Be clear that not everything will get done unless you can find some quiet. Tell people to bugger off (in as charming a way as possible) because, if you don’t, the work that appears will be as noisy as your surroundings.

The words ‘leave me alone’ sound defensive. They shouldn’t. We’ve grown up with those words being a response to someone who’s attacking you but they don’t mean that. They mean, I want to be on my own or, more accurately, I need to think without you clattering around. Ideally, you’ll want to be on your own to think rather than play Minecraft, but if you don’t that’s cool too. Maybe Minecraft is a better use of your time. Maybe not. It’s getting noisy in here (‘self-noise’ that’s a thing too). Anyway, I think they, or some variation of them should be used more often. So, leave me alone (and yes, getting up off your arse and working somewhere else is good too).

I had an idea recently that stayed with me for days. I woke up thinking about it and it grew. I thought about it over the weekend and it grew. What do weekends and bed have in common? Quiet.

When I thought about it, it was as if one lovely clear note was ringing in my head, a note not afforded by my singing voice. It reminded me of what it should feel like. How you should feel about something you’re making. You should love it. For me these notes, or this feeling is more likely to be born of quiet.

To clarify the impact of noise on this situation, imagine someone playing a YouTube clip during your favourite song, they’re disrupting that ‘note’. That’s the feeling of someone making noise while you’re trying to listen. At best it’s irritating, and at worst infuriating.

There are times when the voice is less interested in making an appearance. There are ways in which we can coax it out but none of them seem to have as positive an effect as quiet. Take booze for example. Booze has the same affect on the little voice as it does on a small monkey. It’s carnage. Yes, the voice is definitely louder, but it’s also a gigantic pain in the arse, harder to control, and has the potential to pee on the coffee table. In short, it doesn’t work for me.

Sometimes a project you’re working on doesn’t make the little voice sing quite so loudly. When this happens, we go back to making decisions based on what we know, rather than what we feel. This is fine; noise gets made, work gets done, etc. Even during these times we shouldn’t forget that voices exist. Ignore the voice and you ignore the part that gives people the opportunity to feel rather than just see or hear. The way to keep the voice alive is to keep making your own work in whatever capacity you feel. Make a mug, take up contemporary dance, write an article, or take an improv class. Give the little voice a platform, only then will it bark, squawk or sing. I should add, some noise is better than none.

Before I bid you farewell, I will leave you with this ode to fridge magnets, something straight from your best/worst friend’s Instagram or Pinterest feed…

We don’t have the opportunity to let the little voice sing every time we work but we should shut up and listen for a squawk anyway.

Jack Robertson is a copywriter working in Guns or Knives.