When and Where Should You Write?

Do people really get up at half past four in the morning and creep across the dew soaked lawn to a spider infested garden shed to begin the day’s writing?  Well, apparently so.  According to various accounts of writers’ schedules I’ve read, this is not an uncommon scenario.   On the contrary, this, I have been led to believe, is the kind of dedication required if you’re truly serious about writing.

Nobel and Pulizter Prize winner Toni Morrison used to get up to write at dawn whilst bringing up her two children as a single parent and working as an editor at Random House.  Well, I’ve been known to get up to write at dawn too.  By lunchtime, I’ve either keeled over into my soup or tried to kill innocent people with my bare hands.

As well as rising with the lark, you must also create an aesthetically pleasing workspace.  Avoid clutter, post inspirational pictures on the wall, surround yourself with objects of desire, play Gregorian chants, plug in the Fabreze.

There is something undeniably fascinating about an author’s writing habitat; something hallowed and mystical.  AL Kennedy writes on a laptop in a chair that allows her to tip herself back and face the ceiling.  She is awesomely cool.

Personally, however, I’m not sure I find all this dusky solitude in sacred spaces particularly helpful.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for getting away from people.  That goes for whether I’m writing or not. But faced with ideal writing conditions, my brain tends to panic and seize up. Thank goodness, therefore, for life.  Life is the thing that rescues you from the writing equivalent of a recording studio and demands that you pack up your geetah and take it on the road.

I used to be incredulous about people who wrote novels on the go.  How could they ever concentrate? Well, sometimes it’s a choice between trying to concentrate and throwing away valuable writing time.

I happen to spend long days at swimming galas supporting my children’s aquatic ambitions.  I used to squander this time gossiping with swimming parents about other swimming parents.  I still do this of course, but not until I’ve accomplished some writing first.  I have become adept at ignoring a variety of distracting noises, such as starting guns, loud musical intros to finals and hysterical  parents yelling in my ear ‘Come on Lileeeeeeeeeey!’  In fact I now positively welcome these distractions. Let me explain why.

Say I’m really stuck into a piece of writing and a brilliant idea comes to me.  It’s not quite there yet. It’s hovering, tantalizingly, around the edges of my mind.  Perhaps it’s a major plot twist, or a delicate metaphor.  Either way, I’m struggling to get it to the forefront of my brain.  This is the moment I need to look up and think ‘Oh my God, did he just breathe out of that dive?’ or, ‘He’s so going to get disqualified for that screw-kick on the breaststroke.’  Chances are, when I look back down, my elusive idea will already be typing itself onto the screen.

In order for the subconscious mind to do its magic, the conscious mind sometimes needs a momentary distraction.   If you are working in a writing haven – a garden shed at dawn, or a chair facing the ceiling – there will be nothing irrelevant for your conscious mind to latch onto.

So I say ditch the Fabreze and go plonk yourself in a humid, sweaty, overcrowded, noisy hell-hole instead and just feel those creative juices flow.

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17 Responses to When and Where Should You Write?

  1. Great post Claudia. I suppose that’s one of the great joys of writing – it’s an immensely portable activity. I like to move around the house (and have even been known to type on the loo) but I’ve recently discovered that I can be incredibly productive in a noisy coffee shop. We do have one of those dirty, dingy, spider infested sheds in our garden though, which I generally avoid on pain of death, but maybe I’ll try it out today…!

    • claudia says:

      Thanks Lesley. I like coffee shops too, although I can get a little TOO distracted, eavesdropping on people’s conversations!

  2. Sarah Dempsey says:

    Ahh Claud, a fabulous post! I, too, tried to work (mark books) in a ‘humid, sweaty, overcrowded, noisy hell-hole’ ( the inside soft play-cafe area of Crealy’s Adventure park) whilst the girls screamed around with their mates on the rides. This was NOT successful or conducive to concentration at all! So I removed myself to the car and had a super, warm and relaxing 2 hours listening to the radio as I marked to my heart’s content. The girls returned exhausted, and I went to start the car, smug in the knowledge I had survived the afternoon…… An hour later a very nice AA man arrived as I had drained the battery listening to the radio! Doh!

  3. Jan Hopper says:

    Wonderful post and I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes, the more I try to concentrate, the less able I am to do so. Distractions sometimes (in fact, often) have their merits! x

    • claudia says:

      Thank you Jan. I’m heading off for a load more distractions at a nearby swimming pool this very weekend!

  4. Karen scarborough says:

    As I have just left my comment in the name box before having to start all over again i am probably not the most qualified to make a valued or intelligent comment , but “come on lileeeeeey !” was very funny

  5. Cathy De'Freitas says:

    What a great post, Claudia! You have inspired me to treat this morning’s 3 hour session in a school hall surrounded by children, parents and the cacophony of a zillion musical instruments as an opportunity rather than an annoying waste of writing time. Packing my notebook now!

    • claudia says:

      Sound like perfect conditions Cathy. Get cracking! I’ll be thinking of you while I’m at my sweaty gala.

  6. Valerie says:

    Interesting post. You really do have to trick the unconscious mind into delivering the goods sometimes 🙂

  7. Sandra Cody says:

    Great post. One problem, though – you’ve just removed all my excuses to not write.

  8. claudia says:

    Sorry about that Sandra! I’m sure I can think of some other good excuses though.

  9. Marina Sofia says:

    Just wrote this morning about getting up at 3 a.m. to write for two hours, so I had to double check the date of your post to make sure you weren’t taunting me! I think there are as many writing styles or preferences or how-tos as there are writers. It’s a matter of finding the one that works for you. I found that if I followed the ‘snatch it while you can’ school of though, I was snatching far too little (or at least for my novel – it works beautifully for poetry!).

  10. claudia says:

    Hi Marina. Full of admiration for you for getting up at that time. I agree; you cannot sustain a piece of work by only writing in snatches. I do also assign periods of prolonged solitary concentration. I guess the point is there is no time of day or night, active or passive, that is out of bounds for writing. We can potentially use them all. I hope you manage to get some sleep today!

  11. Thanks some great tips there! Does having a Jack Russell Terrier at your side suddenly bolting for the window, running up the sofa, hacking through the wooden blind, and all the while barking frantically count as a distraction? If so, lucky me hey?!

  12. claudia says:

    Yes, I reckon that counts. I’ve got a cockerpoo who pretty much does the same. Lucky you and me both Julie!

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