Last week we started of our series on obstacles that can get in the way of your writing by talking about finding the time to write. This time we’ll talk a little bit about things you can try to find the right place. As always, this may seem super-obvious–or it may not. Or maybe you need to read this super-obvious advice once again in order for it to sink it.
Finding a place you can write
Learn to deal with distractions and discomfort, if that’s what it takes. At the same time, try to build rituals that increase your comfort and pleasure in writing.
I hate to break it to you, but there is no perfect place to write. There is nowhere that will be completely convenient, comfortable, and distraction-free. Even if you do find that mythical place, you may very well find, as many writers do, that the peace and quiet and perfection of your surroundings will drive you bonkers!
Still, it is certainly helpful to have a specific place set aside where you do your writing. An office in your home is ideal, but not essential. Your dining room table will do just as well (that’s where I’m writing this right now, even though I do in fact have a home office—I’m working on this in between taking care of my pets, making supper, and just enjoying the sight of the birds flocking to the feeders outside my dining room window).
A bigger problem is not having a distraction-free environment. This is particularly an issue for parents of small children, but can also be a problem for anyone in shared living accommodations—or for people living alone, for that matter. The internet stalks us relentlessly these days! Some thoughts:
o Tell your children/significant other/roommates that you’re writing and they’re not allowed to bother you. You have to be selfish about your writing time. If you have something worth saying, then other people need to shut up long enough for you to say it. Yes, even if they’re your family members. A lot of people, especially women, have a hard time prioritizing their own time, but you have to get over that. Learn to put your writing first. I’m not saying be a complete jerk about it, but be firm and disciplined with the other people in your life as well as with yourself.
This is another area where setting strict time limits for your writing can help. You’re not going to ignore your family and friends and put yourself first all the time, just for some very short time, like an hour a day. Most people respect writing as an activity, so chances are good they will be understanding. If not, you may need to reconsider having these people in your house…
At the same time, you may just have to get used to having people coming in and out of your workspace. It can even be helpful. Jane Austen famously wrote her manuscripts in her parlor in front of the rest of her family and visitors, and would talk to her family about her stories and her characters.
o Figure out what works for you as far as having windows or no windows in your work space, and listening to music or some kind of sound versus complete silence. I personally freak out and can even become physically ill in windowless rooms, and have to set up my workspace in front of the biggest windows I can find (one of the reasons I’m currently in my dining room, which has five windows facing in two different directions) if I’m going to get anything done.
Some people, on the other hand, like to bury themselves away in basement rooms and tiny, cell-like library carrels. If what you’re using right now for a work space isn’t working, try something else, and don’t assume that sitting in front of a blank wall in complete silence will make things better. Some people find that sitting outside in the open air is just the thing they need to get the creative juices flowing. Try all the things!
Going to coffee shops is also a classic method for getting writing done. It may seem counterintuitive, but the busy environment can be just the thing for getting the words moving from brain to fingers, while the change in location can signal to your brain that it’s time to work. So don’t feel like you shouldn’t do it, or that you’re weird for needing to do it. In fact, studies have shown that having to block out external distractions can actually improve mental performance. J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in coffee shops while living as a single mother of a small child on government assistance. Indie fantasy author Angela Ford says she likes to hang out in coffee shops and people-watch, which is a great way to build characters.
I myself have worked on and off in coffee shops, either by myself or with a partner, especially when I was trying to do some task I particularly wanted to avoid, like writing that particularly irksome cover letter or research statement. Going to a coffee shop was a clear signal that WORK HAD TO HAPPEN, since I’d schlepped out there and paid $5 for a cup of coffee. Having a partner sitting across from me made me embarrassed to slack off in front of them, and we could bounce ideas off each other. And I felt deliciously artist-y when I was doing my first edits of my first novel, The Midnight Land, while sitting at a little round table at Caribou Coffee in full view of the rest of the clientele, who could all see I was sitting there with a manuscript and marking it with a red pen. Of course, so was everyone else there—this was Chapel Hill, where every second person is writing a thesis, dissertation, or novel. Still, it was fun and enabled me to get past my fear of doing that painful first round of edits of my first book.
That’s it for this week! Next week we’ll talk about experimenting with music and other sounds to signal to your brain that it’s time to start writing.