Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A room (or booth or carrel or pew) of one's own: Where to write

Location, location, location.

It’s one of the tips I give when asked to talk about daily writing practice and how to implement the habit: Vary your venue. Try writing in different places and at different times of day. Test out a little of everything to see what works best.

For the most part, of course, continuity and regularity are important in establishing a habit. Same time and same place every day may seem like the best choices to make if you want to establish consistency in a habit, whether it’s writing or exercising or getting to bed at a particular time.

But I think it’s also beneficial to try out different writing spots. Six o’clock in the morning, at my desk in my home office, gazing out at the trees and watching the sky very slowly brighten, is my usual. But three in the afternoon at Starbucks can be nice too. As can lunchtime at the public library, or midafternoon on a Saturday by the side of the pool while my kids are swimming.

Having written daily nonstop for fifteen years, I’ve tried out a lot of locales. Cafes and bookstores by the dozens, of course. But also playgrounds. Beaches. Restaurants. Airports. Airplanes. Parking lots. Parking garages. Church. Yes, I journaled in church. Not during a service; during the rehearsal for the Christmas pageant when I had nothing else I needed to do.

First of all, it’s just fun to see what it’s like to write in different places. Not surprisingly, the varying scenery and ambience can inspire your writing in so many different ways: the aromas at the coffee shop, the overheard conversations on the beach, the parade of people passing by at the airport. And a good cup of coffee or pastry can make you feel like you’re rewarding yourself for taking the time to write. Plus it’s motivating sometimes just to feel like people are watching you. “Oh look, a writer,” you imagine them thinking, and then you tell yourself, “I’d better keep my fingers moving or they’ll suspect I have nothing important to say.” Even better if they are people you know: you tell yourself “Oooh, they see I’m writing. I’d better not stop and open up that magazine.”

And you don’t necessarily need silence to write. Not for journal writing, anyway. While it might be difficult if people are talking directly to you, ambient background noise can be great. I like busy coffee shops for just this reason: sometimes I can write at my best when there are baristas bantering and espresso machines whirring, just as I sometimes do my most productive thinking while listening to the BBC, which I’m afraid tells you something about my ability to grasp world events presented with an intellectual spin.

For the sake of maintaining the habit, it’s not bad to pick a few standard times and places around which to center your writing habit. But be flexible, too. Try a little of everything and see how it changes what you write.

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