Many of us have a vision of what a writer should look like. At least, what they look like while they are working. Maybe you see a woman in the coffee shop who pounds away on an oldschool, manual typewriter. Perhaps you envision a man smoking cigarettes, drinking brandy, and clicking away on a computer in a crowded corner of his house surrounded by books and papers. For some, it could be a cottage overlooking a lake with a sweating glass of sweet tea as a companion (I want that…someday).
Some of these visions are based on real people we have seen become successful. Others are built from what we observe in television and movies, or read about in books. Ultimately, many of us model our writing environment around these examples. Just go to the local coffee house to see this in action.
As I have become more serious about my own writing, I’ve been thinking more and more about the space I work in. What environment best compliments someones ability to be creative and push out words?
Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, offered his opinion:
“The space can be humble (probably should be, as I think I have already suggested), and it really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk” (p. 155).
On the flipside, in Marc Shapiro’s book, J.K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter, Rowling is attributed as saying, “Writing and cafés are strongly linked in my brain” (p.77). This makes sense seeing how her first two Harry Potter books were supposedly written in The Elephant House, a coffee and tea shop in Edinburgh.
From what I’ve found, some people write better while experiencing the world and others write better shut off from it and creating their own. I feel the takeaway here is the ability to shut, or open, the door. Whether the door is a heavy physical thing, or a mental one, it’s important to be able to be focus in a way that allows you to create.
In this way, I really do think environment matters. Just take a look at your current projects. How many words are coming and are you meeting your writing goals?
If your answer is, yes, then you may have just read this whole post for no reason. But if your answer is, no, have you ever tried changing your environment for a week or two and seeing if those numbers change? Maybe isolation isn’t your game. Maybe the muse isn’t interested in co-sharing a room with you. Sorry. I doubt it’s personal. For you public space writers, maybe the muse is too distracted by the hustle and bustle of your surroundings to deal with you.
Whatever your deal is, the end goal should be taking the story marinating in your head and converting it into words on paper. If something is stopping you from accomplishing this, change it. If you can’t figure out what “it” is, maybe try a change of scenery and see if this knocks the gears loose.
For me, I have a study, noise cancelling headphones, and a daily writing schedule. I could drag my butt in front of the computer and type in my pajamas if I wanted to—especially as a stay-at-home dad and freelancer—but I don’t. I don’t write or work effectively like this. If I’m approaching the job of writing half-assed, then I write half-assed. If I eat, change into “outside people” clothes, and hit the keyboard, the words make their way out easier. My mind knows it’s time to at least act like I’m a pro.
Fake it until you make it I guess. What’s your daily grind looking like these days? What environment encourages the best results from you? Do you know any stories or accounts of authors who thrive in bizarre writing environments? I’d love to hear about it. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!