Monday, August 19, 2013

The value of a writer's environment.

My favorite place to write is the cafe in a bookstore where the whirl of the cappuccino machine blocks everything else out. Crazy, huh? I love the smell of coffee, books, and the shuffle of chairs on the tile floor. It feels right for a writer to write surrounded by books.

Everyone has their own traditions and rituals around their craft. I used to light candles and play soft music, when I was at home and had a few minutes to write. But those times were few and far between. I made a lot of progress in the university commons and fast food places during lunch and between classes, however, so noise and the smell of coffee became my writing zone.

I carved out a nice little office at home, where I'd pay bills when I wasn't writing or researching. BUT, that was before our global corporation closed our physical offices in this small city and allowed us all to go "virtual." Sounds like a dream, right? Work from home in your pajamas? It was fun at first, but the only place to set up my day job office was - my writing space. Funny how when you spend 8-10 hours in one place you can't wait to escape it at the end of the day. It's really quiet so I'm an extremely productive worker, but...

So, I moved over to Border's Cafe & Books to do my writing on the weekends and a couple evenings a week. Which was fabulous! We all know how this ends, though. A few years ago Border's went away and I lost my favorite place to write. I tried the library, we have a fabulous branch near my house, but guess's too quiet! The surroundings were great, all those books, so other than the absence of coffee the smell and ambiance was great. But I missed the bustle.

Since then I've written in sandwich shops, coffee houses, and other local bookstores - trying to capture that perfect ambiance. I spent this past Saturday in Watermark Books & Cafe and it was great, but I spent an hour in drive time. <sigh> I got a lot done, honest. It smelled right, it felt right, I was inspired. But oddly enough, I was just as productive at home Friday evening with the TV going downstairs and the door to my office open. Go figure.

Maybe the environment isn't as critical as I thought. Perhaps, (this is a tough one to admit) it is my state of mind instead. Ouch.
Writing isn't always easy or fun. You dig deep inside your dark places to pull out all the emotions and experiences that make the words on the pages real. You open a vein and your blood trickles onto the page. At least that's what it feels like, especially when you write something that you think is really good. I guess I just needed to figure out for myself that where I write doesn't matter as much as where the words come from. Me.

A lesson learned.


Maggie Toussaint said...


I totally get what you are saying about the contamination of the creative writing space with, groan, work. I have the same conflict with my freelance reporting job and my writing time. Usually, I separate them by time of day, but my time isn't always my own, if you know what I mean.

It was only a few years ago that I branched out and got a laptop. I stayed tethered to a desktop forever, because I didn't see the need to have a movable writing space. But I needed computer access on trips and for writer's conferences, and I often had to wait in doctor's offices for a family member, so I took the plunge and went laptop instead of desktop.

Now I realize that while I'll always have my preference for where I write best, I can write anywhere if I set my mind to it. That's the hardest part - summoning that writing zone in different settings - but it is doable if you're strongly motivated.

Great, provocative post!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Bonnie,

A common interview question is where do you do your writing? It seems you have much in common with J.K. Rowling since she was reputed to have written her first Harry Potter novel at a coffee shop. Some writers actually concentrate better in a noisy environment. Other like music playing as they work. For myself, I write best at my desk in my own little home office with no distractions for at least several hours each day. I'll come back to read responses from others. Actually, I don't think there's any best or right way to create. We're all individuals.

Alice Duncan said...

Interesting post, Bonnie. The weird thing about my writing life is that I probably got more real writing done when I had to sneak it in during my day job. Now writing is my day job, so I have to force myself to do it!

bdtharp said...

Thanks, Maggie. I see you experience something similar to mine with working in the home. Time seldom feels like it is "my own" either. :-(

Jacqui - you are so right! We all have to find our best way to write. And it is a very individual thing. Thanks for the comments.

Hi Alice, good observation. I dream of being able to write full time, but I feel from your comment that it is not "perfect" either. I do better if I can organize myself and when I'm working I HAVE to organize, so, maybe having a day job has other advantages (besides a paycheck & bennies)-it forces me to prioritize and I write because I "want to."

Thank you all for sharing. It is very interesting what other writers do to get the muse going.

Mary Fremont Schoenecker said...

Hi Bonnie, I often see people writing in coffee shops or lunch places, but I need my quiet space at my desk where my laptop rests. Sometimes I break to read email or go to social media sites. Isn't it good we are all so different, yet produce a variety of genres?

BDTharp said...

Hi Mary. Yes our differences is what makes us all interesting. Thanks for commenting.

Barbara Graham said...

I do the keyboard part of writing in my office space which is an old door on two file cabinets next to the door into the dog's yard. I have a beautiful view of the mountains so I keep the blinds closed.

What I call the creative part of writing takes place on the couch, with the curtains open and coffee and a dog. I use a pen (which of 50pens is today's favorite?) and a cheap notebook to build characters, plot and weird stuff.

Do whatever works.

Barbara Graham

BDTharp said...

You are so right, Barbara! Whatever works is what needs to be done. Have a great week...

Karen Cioffi said...

I believe it's the mindset. I write where ever I can, even in doctors' offices when waiting for appointments and on long car rides (if I'm not driving, of course). It's a matter of getting 'in the zone.'

At home, I don't have an office, so my living room or dining room has to make do.

BDTharp said...

Hi Karen. Thanks for the comment. Getting in the zone is not always easy for me. That's why I've searched for the "perfect" place to write. Bottom line for me is that there is no "perfect" place, it's just me, getting the writing done wherever & whenever I can. Good luck in your writing journey.

Maryann Miller said...

Interesting piece that definitely made me think about the difficulties I've had writing in the same place where I now do more and more "business" related to writing. Maybe I've been playing that same unconscious game with myself that you were.