The where of writing

How important is setting to your writing? And by that I mean the setting where you are doing the writing, not the setting of your story.

Can you write on the fly? Can you sit down (or stand, for that matter, or even lie on the floor) anywhere and pick up your story where you’d left it? Or do you, like me, need a familiar, accustomed setting to enter your creative mental space and tease out the words.

As I write this, I am sitting in the library of a very nice bed and breakfast in St. Louis, my old home town. I am in a comfortable chair. I’m surrounded by books. My laptop rests solidly on my lap. I have my requisite iced tea beside me. I have quiet and solitude. I have just about all a writer could require in terms of setting. But I can’t seem to enter that creative mental space.

I suppose I am a creature of habit. Or am I saying that as an excuse for avoiding the hard work of creative writing? I do know from my experience that I must “ramp up” in my writing efforts before I can really get the words to come. Typically, I can spend the first hour yanking a couple of hundred words out of my head and then find after the second hour that I have two or three thousands words written. So maybe that’s another factor in play. But as I sit in this seemingly ideal writing setting, the words aren’t coming. Do I really need to be back home in my little “office” in order to write?

I’ve read on other blogs about some writers (and these tend to be busy moms with all of the demands and pace of parenthood who also nurture writing ambitions) who will sit down and write whenever they have — literally — ten minutes of free time. I can’t imagine what could be achieved in such little time. Is it really so easy for some to get immersed in the creative space? Can they really hope to achieve something meaningful in that time? I suppose so, and if so, I’m envious.

It is still quiet in the house. St. Louis is waking outside; I hear cars and busses and the occasional wailing ambulance go by. But I think I have another hour of solitude ahead of me before breakfast comes, so I’m going to try to force myself to write something.

Maybe it’s that the novel(s) I’m working on are the “problem.” Maybe to enter those places, I need the familiar. Maybe I can work on something new or different. I have a number of partly written short stories languishing on my hard drive. Maybe I’ll take up one of those and see what I can do with it.

But first, I need to refill my iced tea glass.

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7 Comments on “The where of writing”

  1. Beth Says:

    I’ve trained myself to write anywhere, but I find that my best stuff is written at home, or where I’m comfortable. There are some places that I’ve tried to write, but find I have too much trouble. Namely airports and on airplanes, probably because of the hustle and bustle.
    I can brainstorm anywhere, but the actual writing process is usually by hand, feet up, cuppa at hand.

  2. Brian Keaney Says:

    At my big oak desk in my study in front of my desktop computer with the keyboard at a slightly lower level to the monitor and the monitor exactly the right distance from my eyes, seated on an adjustable chair with proper back support. No one in the house to distract me. Nine o’clock in the morning. All day ahead of me. Perfect.

    But if necessary (e.g. when on holiday) on a netbook perched on any available space. However, snatched writing of this kind always has to be reworked later.

  3. Annam Says:

    For me, it’s not so much the “setting” as it is the “tools.” If I have my coffee, my computer, a comfortable chair, and a point on the wall to fixate on, I do well enough. If you can replicate your writing space, you can almost trick yourself into producing.

  4. Averil Dean Says:

    I write wherever I can find those ten minutes you mentioned. In fact, much of my novel has been written on post-it notes that I stick on the underside of my desk at work.

    It’s not real writing, however. A paragraph here, a paragraph there. But every night, after the kids are in bed, I gather up my scribbles and transpose them into my manuscript. It helps me to make more of my true, quiet writing time when I have some sort of beginning in hand, something to embellish.

    And like Annam, I need my coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.


  5. I’ve conditioned myself to write whenever/wherever, but the writing tends to either be chunkier, or it tends to lack the depth I get when I have hours of uninterrupted time alone. By chunkier, I mean that since I often write on lunch breaks at work, chapters that may have been a bit more dense are more like Kurt Vonnegut length: short enough to convey the ideas and make some points, but not as long as things when I have more time. (And I’m not sure this is such a bad thing in my case.)

    But I really do my best writing when I have all the time I want. I’ve sacrificed things and worked hard to have the life that Haruki Murakami describes in his book, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running–a life where he “…placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing.”

    I never really thought [too much] about the effect of one’s environment and time on their writing. But it makes sense. I read the writing of friends who only have time to write here and there and I envy the spark they have to what they write. Thinking about it, though, it makes sense: if you’re rushing about, taking care of kids and only have time to write 10-15 minutes here and there, you have time to think about writing, and you have to get it all out of your head as fast as you can. And then there are those writers I love like John Irving who can let things gestate much longer and when it finally comes out, it’s dense and layered and something that slows even my world down when I read it.

    While I prefer 2-4 hours of uninterrupted time to write and can get that several times a week, most of my writing is done in 1-2 hour sessions. It’s a time that allows me to take care of my daily responsibilities, but gives me enough time to lose myself in what I’m writing.


  6. […] a blog entry called “The Where of Writing” on Paul Lamb’s Lucky Rabbit’s Foot got me thinking about something that’s never […]

  7. M.E. Anders Says:

    Found your blog from Chris @ the Juggling Writer.

    I concur. I think I also need that familiar creative space like my “walk-in closet turned office” to get into my writing zone.


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