There’s a romantic notion that career writers sit all day in a lovely space, perhaps with a view of the ocean, or in a sunny garden with butterflies flitting about, tapping away effortlessly spinning the treads of a story into a masterpiece. The reality is somewhat different, especially if you are not a career writer, whatever that may be!
I write most of the time in my home office, which I’d love to describe as a fabulous creative space that spurs me on to wonderful things, but I’d be lying. It’s just a fairly thrown together home office that I keep promising I’ll do up nicely and never get around to doing. It’s certainly not quite in keeping with what Stephen King recommend in his book On Writing. He suggests a room with no distractions. If it has a window, he suggests you pull the curtains.
I don’t go as far as that. My window looks out on a pretty garden. I sit side-on to the window, not facing it square on. I like a certain amount of order in my writing space. It has to be clutter-free, or at least have “organized” clutter, as in objects sitting around that I can claim have functionality.
I need silence - absolute silence. Trying to find somewhere to write is very similar to trying to find somewhere I can sleep. A ticking clock will drive me batty. Music is completely out of the question. That said, I know people who work better with some noise around them, as if silence is a hardship for them. Whatever works for you is the whole point of my post today.
The first thing you need is somewhere you can be physically comfortable, with the temperature right and the chair/desk/laptop/computer/pen and paper formula just the way you like it. Other places that provide a quiet, comfortable environment include the library, or a hotel room. My writer-friend’s husband travels a lot for business. She tags along because she can stay and write in the hotel room all day without the distraction she’d have in her own house, like cleaning and cooking. She can explore the new city in the evening with her husband.
I’ve written while on cruises. Sea-days are great for finding a quiet spot – usually the night club, abandoned as it is by day ¬ – and tapping out a chapter or two. Of course, this is more of an opportunist situation, though I’ve often wondered if a writer’s retreat at sea would be a viable option for me.
Travel is always something that inspires me, and I find that I often compose prose when I’m sitting on a plane, train or bus. I’ll happily pull out pen and pad to take advantage of this.
I have tried in vain to write outside. If it is warm enough to sit outside, it’s usually too sunny to see comfortably, whether I have a screen which I can’t see in sunlight, or paper which reflects the sun’s glare. I can barely read outside, never mind write. Then there’s the flies, mosquitoes and other buzzing bugs that I seem to notice more if I’m sitting still. It is hard to get the temperature right - too hot leads to sweating - too cold leads to shivering. If it’s truly pleasant, I find myself dozing off.
But if you are an outside writer, I’d imagine that the whole world is opened up to you, right? I’d love to know what works for outside writers.
J.K. Rowling was a great fan of writing in a coffee shop and it’s a trend I see now all the time. It’s not for me. I’d still feel alone, on top of feeling distracted. Some of the members of my writing group like to do this. Occasionally, I join them, which does help alleviate the isolation of writing. If I try hard, I can resist the urge to chat and get on with it – most times!
Sometimes we get together to write at each other’s houses too. It takes a huge degree of discipline to not sit and chat the day away, but we all know that if we screw it up we won’t be doing ourselves any favors. The joint effort generally pays off, and I like the feeling of mutual respect we have for each other as writers that it engenders.
We’ve even gotten together to write in a car dealership. One of the writing-group was having her car serviced and she invited us to join her as she waited. It was a Lexus dealership and the waiting area was somewhat swanky. So we sat, four of us around a table with our laptops, sipping the free coffee and nibbling the free cookies until her car was ready. It was unusual and fun, and it worked because we were determined that it would.
Workshops and creative writing classes can be a good place to get down to writing. The facilitator will throw out a writing prompt and each person goes off on their own for an allotted time to produce something that will then be read aloud for the group. It may not be something that pushes forward your work-in-progress, but it might sharpen those sluggish writing muscles and get the brain tumbling again.
Whatever your writing procedure is, be open to breaking your own rules occasionally. Experiment with places to write and see if you can find your optimum for production. Sometimes you need a place that is optimum for enjoyment. These may be vastly different from each other, but that’s okay, so long as you know that and are aware of what your goal for that day is. Be gentle but strict - writing is hard work. Make it work for you. Perhaps all that really matters is that you do the best you can to keep writing!
Byddi Lee, features writer. Byddi grew up in Armagh, Ireland, and moved to Belfast to study Biology at Queen’s University when she was 18. She made Belfast her home for twenty-one years, teaching science and writing for pleasure. In 2002 she took a sabbatical from teaching and traveled round the world for two years, writing blogs about her adventures as she went. She returned to Ireland in 2004 and resumed teaching. In 2008 she and her husband moved to San Jose, California where she made writing a full-time career. After the publication of her short story, Death of a Seannachai, she decided it was time to write, March to November. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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