Place is so important when it comes to writing, and no, I’m not talking about setting. “Where do you write?” is a question commonly asked of writers. Some can write anywhere: on planes, in motel rooms, bars (?), cafes, libraries or while sitting cross-legged on their nan’s couch. Others can only work in their home office, or a particular cafe, or their dining room.
Me? I fall more into the latter than the former. My preferred choice is to work from home, but I can pretty well write anywhere. Admittedly, working in the same location at home can become a bit stale, so I enjoy moving my workstation around the house. I work just as well writing at the nook desk in my bedroom as I do at the dining table, the outdoor entertainment area, or standing at the kitchen counter – something I do when I am just so sick of sitting! When I am the only person home, I tend to relocate my workstation through the day. When everyone is home, I prefer working at my desk. Door closed.
A well established writing routine will help you rack up a seriously high word count, but this kind of repetitive and mindless practice can also become boring. The good news is that switching up your writing location can be tremendously refreshing.
Research shows that our cognitive resources become a little more depleted with every decision we make. If you get out of bed every morning, don your walking shoes, exercise, shower, dress and eat the same breakfast every day – without thinking about it! – then you will save a ton of creative/cognitive reserves for your writing.
Your work may flourish, but no one wants to live that pious lifestyle forever.
Don’t get me wrong, I love working from home. The ability to make a cup of tea, prepare lunch or go to the bathroom whenever I want – and without having to pack up my laptop and notes (library) or pay for the experience/privilege (cafe) – is so easy and effortless that it makes leaving the house seem silly.
But working from home has its disadvantages too. There is laundry to wash, plants to water and meals to prepare. It’s so easy to waste thirty minutes here or fifteen minutes there tending to the never-ending list of domestic tasks. Plus, if you’re the only one home, the temptation to ‘quickly check’ a favourite blog or social media feed becomes overwhelming. You aren’t goofing off unless someone catches you, right?
When I write at libraries or cafes, I’m constantly amazed by how much I get done. When you eliminate your proximity to nagging chores, you get a lot done. When you place yourself in a public environment where the scrolling of social media feeds would have you pegged as another unemployed Millenial chewing up the complimentary Wifi rather than a clever wordsmith in touch with his muse – again – you get a lot done.
The power strangers have over our laptop screens is astounding. Knowing that someone may flick an idol gaze our way is enough to keep the current WIP document open and the browser closed. (Unless, of course, you’re reading what is clearly an academic journal article and you are studiously taking notes in a moleskin journal. This is a different type of Millennial wanker, yes, but one you are willing to live with).
Writing on the road is its own particular beast, and it’s a question that marries well with the topic of writing spaces.
I can write while travelling, but it’s not easy. Not by a long shot.
When you step outside of your hometown – even if you’re visiting a very familiar city, or staying with close family or friends, or are attending a work-related conference – it’s difficult to not become distracted by your surroundings. Your inner child is determined to be social, to be irresponsible, to drink wine, mess up your sleep pattern and abandon all of your meticulously established rules and routines (you know, the ones that support your writing ambitions; the ones you’ve learned through trial and error).
You don’t have to write on the road. You can abandon your routine and take a genuine holiday. No one will die and I’ll only judge you a little bit. Promise. But what if you want to write while travelling?
In this instance, there are no easy solutions, but I do have four tips:
1. If you’re travelling with others, communicate your desire to write while on the road
2. Write when there is a break in activities, responsibilities, appointments
3. Write when you don’t feel like it but the time is available
4. Milk that time for all that it is worth.
Recently, I attended a music festival with some friends in Tasmania. The first few days were pretty jam-packed as we explored St Helen’s, set up our accommodation and generally caught up with one another. Pretty quickly though we settled into a semi-routine of 8am get up, outdoor exploring until 2pm, a couple hours of quiet time and then meeting again around 6pm for dinner/drinks. Now, I know this may sound exhausting (because it kind of is) but while everyone was having an afternoon camp, I was working.
Sometimes I worked on my thesis, academic proposal forms or researched articles.
Sometimes I woke up at 6am and squeezed in two hours of editing before everyone got up.
It would have been very easy to become a whinny little writer during this time because frankly 6am-8am and 2pm-5pm are definitely NOT my peak energy times. In fact, during these hours, my brain is nothing but a big old bowl of mash potato. While I don’t naturally sleep late or take naps, I do appreciate downtime, especially after sight-seeing and socialising; two activities that are equal parts rejuvenating and TOTALLY exhausting.
But I had deadlines, and though I had worked hard to get ahead so that my writing load would be less while on holidays, I couldn’t abandon it completely. Writing and engaging in deep thinking while sitting on a couch from the 1970s in a cottage in desperate need of a revamp surrounded by the snores of three weary travellers who were clever enough not to become writers was far from an ideal workspace.
Unfortunately, writing, even when you’re in the ideal situation, still takes effort. Writing within your absolute unideal situation is a little like having your car break down on the highway, you really don’t want to deal with this problem, but you have to.
I know I make writing outside of my workspace sound like hell (because it kind of is), but I chose to do it.
We (kind of) choose to be writers. No one is holding a gun to our heads. In the end, how I got through my holiday writing sessions was by changing my perception. Instead of being pissed about losing my downtime because I had to write, I saw socialising and sight-seeing as downtime. I also altered my writing goals so that they were more realistic given my energy levels and time constraints. I chose to work on holidays, but I also get to choose how I work.
All that said, we’re about to enter the busiest time of the year. So, I’m giving myself permission to take a break from this blog for the whole month of December. If I find the time, or if the muse whacks me with a big old inspiration stick, then I’ll go ahead and post. Otherwise, I’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and thank you so much for taking the time to read these weekly ramblings.