Every writer needs a special, unique environment to produce their best work. J.K. Rowling famously wrote the first Harry Potter book in her local café and swears by the technique; Truman Capote would always write lying down, cigarette in hand; while Jack Kerouac is alleged to have written Doctor Sax sat in William Burrough’s toilet (what if Burroughs needed it?). Paul Sheldon, the hero of Stephen King’s terrifying novel on writing and obsessive fans, Misery, holes up in a mountainous retreat, in a quest for solitude which is to prove his undoing.
Some writers want zero distractions, so no windows, no music, television or internet access, just a chair, desk and blank wall. Others prefer to take regular breaks to combat fatigue or writers’ block, and so they actively look for things to focus their attention on other than the page or screen. For all writers though, it’s just a matter of trying different locations and techniques to find what works best and gets the words flowing. Here are some of the more likely places to find a writer at work:
Attics – Separate from the rest of the house, the attic is a natural refuge for the writer. Often all that will be heard from up there for days on end is the clatter of fingers on keys, and shouts for more coffee and someone to turn the heating on.
Sheds – The garden shed has long been the favoured tatty habitat of men wanting to escape the housework. Reclaim the place – clear out all the old deckchairs and broken plant-pots, plug the leaks and repair the cracked windows, and fill it instead with a writing space and old toys, magazines and pictures to get your creative juices flowing.
Libraries – Libraries are sadly dwindling in numbers rapidly, but most towns still have at least one, and you will now often find good coffee on sale there too. And of course for the writer it’s not half helpful to have stacks of reference books surrounding them. Bring headphones though because despite all the signs, libraries can still be noisy places sometimes.
Cafés – Have to be honest here, can’t really see where Rowling was coming from with cafés – you’ve got customers everywhere chatting or on the phone, music you can’t control, loud machines, plus if you want to sit there for hours on end you’ll spend your whole advance on coffee.
Public Transport – Fill the long commuting hours on the bus or train by putting words to paper. Like cafés this can still be a distracting environment though, and if you get carried away with a brilliant sentence you risk missing your stop!
Parks – Parks offer fresh air and pleasant scenery to the writer, but keep in mind the inherent risks – bad weather can frequently strike without warning, you can be besieged by legions of friendly dogs or hungry pigeons, and people always want to share your bench and inevitably want to discuss what you’re writing.
Quiet Pubs – Writing in the pub can be an expensive experience it’s true, but as a pubby person myself, it is quite a soothing atmosphere if you find the right one. And if you’re writing a character-based piece of fiction it’s a great spot to find inspiration.
The Wilderness – If all else fails, and you can’t escape being distracted at home, in the garden or the pub, then there’s nothing else for it. Pack your bag with essentials, book a holiday, and head to the great outdoors. Guaranteed at some point you’ll re-discover the muse perched on a sand-dune in the Sahara, camped out in a rainforest, or sat in a remote cabin in snowy Scandinavia. Just remember to pack coffee!
Biog: Rob is a freelance writer who is currently working on that all-important first novel in his garden shed.