Anyway, I had never tried writing with ambient noise before - only with actual music, whether it be classical or pop or movie soundtracks. Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of participating with a few other fellow writers for a writing weekend. We all gathered together with our laptops and chocolate and favorite sweatpants, devoting a whole weekend to kicking off NaNoWriMo together! It was a great experience, and although I'm not participating this year, I still worked fervently on my current work-in-progress.
About halfway through our writing weekend, I recalled the article I did on ambient noises and how I had been meaning to try it out. What better time to try this than when four eager and open-minded writers are gathered doing what they do best? So I turned on the rain option (found at www.rainymood.com). Guess what? It REALLY worked!
Now I don't have any stats of before/after writing with the rain sounds playing, but I know I felt more productive. Instead of being distracted here and there by someone tapping or readjusting themselves in their chair, the rain sound gave my subconscious a constant yet unpredictable structure base to focus on. Those two points I think are key when it comes to noises being distracting or soothing:
Constant: Other sounds occurring around you happen intermittently, making your brain perk up and identify it, wonder if it will happen again, listening more for it. When you have a steady and consistent noise bank filling in your "white space," it makes it easier to ignore the rest of them.
Unpredictable structure: What I mean by this is just that it's not a melody your brain can sing or hum along to like it does with lyrical songs or even instrumental. When I become familiar enough with an instrumental song, I hum the melody inside my head and that's almost as bad as thinking through the lyrics of the song you're listening to while you're trying to write. With an ambient sound like rain, you can't really hum it or predict the structure of it. That means more brain power for the task of writing!
Granted, I didn't have a huge testing base ...just four writers pecking away at their own individual manuscripts for a whole weekend. But each writer made it a point to say they thought the rain really helped them to focus and block out distractions. My conclusion then is, even if it doesn't make me write MORE words, I still think it's a hit if it makes me FEEL more productive. There's nothing worse than staring at a computer screen and just feeling like you're not making any real progress.
There were a few unwanted side effects of using the rainy mood website which involved a higher rate of going to the bathroom and also inducing a sleepy state late at night. Possibly using a noise that doesn't relate to sounds of water could reduce the bathroom breaks ...but I think any ambient noise is going to make you sleepy if your body is already fatigued. Just like with writing, your body loves the sound bed ambient noise provides when you are trying to fall asleep. Some people actually can't sleep without certain ambient noises whether it be the fan going or the murmur of the television. As long as you aren't pushing yourself, I don't think the ambient noises will be much of a problem for you.
This is where I insert my clever spin-off of the Most Interesting Man in the world/Dos Equis commercials and say: I don't always use ambient noises when I write, but when I do, I prefer Rainy Mood. Stay awake, my friends.