Today’s First Monday writing question comes from my lovely online Swedish friend, Agneta Angie Probst. It’s actually a cluster of related questions that concern most writers. What surroundings work best – a quiet office with no distractions or a busy coffee shop? As Angie says, the first offers few disturbances, while the cafe has easy access to coffee and cookies. Connected issues include a suitable chair, handy writing tools (whiteboards, sticky notes) and scheduling your writing.
I could take the easy way out and say, “whatever works for you.” But this doesn’t help you decide what works for you. Bear in mind that one answer may not fit all, or even one, all the time. Angie may find she works well on fiction writing in a cafe environment, while a research project may require more peace and quiet.
Music preferences can also change with the project and you can assemble playlists to suit different writing needs. Good headphones will help you manage ambient sound, and are useful when you travel or work at home.
As for the best location, I find cafes good for people-watching and sorting out plots. J K Rowling famously wrote much of Harry Potter in an Edinburgh cafe called The Elephant House. Other bestselling authors who’ve worked there include Ian Rankin (the Rebus novels) and Alexander McCall Smith (The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency).
Even Shakespeare was said to have worked in pubs because candles were expensive and the pub lighting suited him better.
Libraries are another place to get into your writing groove, though they are far from the silent places they used to be. Last year I presented a one-day writing workshop at the Canberra City Library. The mezzanine where we worked wasn’t fully screened off and I felt for other library users below us because my workshops are usually noisy. I was told afterward that the staff found our writing exercises entertaining, especially one on where to set love scenes other than bedrooms.
I also find that taking day trips with a local group is brilliant for scribbling ideas, while hotels suit me because I’m away from domestic distractions. Last October I was in Hawai’i when I awoke with a new book idea in my head. I got up and scribbled pages and pages of notes which I’ve just finished developing into a new series. I’m sure being away from home, exposed to new experiences, helped to kick-start my imagination.
Part of the appeal of cafes and other new places may be getting this fresh input. Whether you write part-time around a day job, or full time at home as I do, your writer brain needs new materials to fashion into stories. Even taking your notes out into a garden or on a balcony can provide this vital change of scene. If you have small children to mind, perhaps you can exchange babysitting time with another writing mum so you both get writing time. Or there may be a group you can join for inspiration or to get more writing done. Romance Writers of Australia is currently trialing writers’ retreats in different locales. Some focus on writing, others on sharing critiques, or a mix of the two. Contact http://romanceaustralia.com/ for details.
As for having the right chair and handy writing materials, you can either outfit a carry bag with basic needs, or – as I do – draft your pages in a notebook or a tablet and edit them later. I find cafe chairs comfy for a limited time, maybe by design so we don’t outstay our welcome. If you find a cafe that’s both comfortable and happy for you to linger, buy lots of coffee and reward them with a credit in your book.
If you’re serious about writing, it’s vital to have a comfortable ergonomic chair wherever you work most. Mine has everything from a pump-up lumbar support to arms that lift up or down as needed.
And if you want a take-anywhere cafe ambiance, there’s a site called Coffitivity https:coffitivity.com where you can download an app that provides cafe noises with choices like Morning Murmur, Paris Bistro and University Undertones, described as “the scholarly sounds of a campus cafe.” According to the site, “being a tiny bit distracted helps you to be more creative…this is why those AHA moments happen when we’re brushing our teeth, taking a shower or mowing the lawn,“ a sentiment I fully endorse. Coffitivity cites a peer-reviewed study out of the University of Chicago as proof their product works.
Scheduling your writing sessions depends on you and the other demands on your time. I recommend experimenting with different times to see what suits you best. I used to do most of my writing before the rest of the world was awake. These days I tend to be more creative in late afternoon and evenings. Writing around the same time every day trains your muse to deliver at that time. Even if you only write a couple of hundred words a day, you’ll have a book written in under a year.
Where do you do your most productive work? What tips would you suggest to Angie? Please share with us in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
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