Thursday, August 16, 2012


Where Do You Write?

Where do you write?

People who write freehand have long had plenty of choices, but those of us who compose at the keyboard were long tied to wherever the computer (or typewriter) was.  They were appliances, far too cumbersome (and fragile, and expensive) to carry around.  In college, I wrote in the campus computer center; in grad school, I wrote in my bedroom.  Even into the 2000’s, I wrote in the basement, because that was where the computer was.

Cheaper and lighter laptops, and now tablets, have given us keyboard composers some of the geographic mobility of our pen and paper colleagues.  Which means, among other things, that we have to make choices that used to be made for us.

Picking a writing spot is partly a function of life circumstances.  As a Dad, I need to be home a lot, so just schlepping off to a local cafe every day isn’t an option.  (In grad school, it would have been.)  Even closing myself off in some isolated room of the house doesn’t fly for long.  So I’ve learned to make peace with interruptions, and to do what can be done at the kitchen table.  

(Learning to work with interruptions is where parenting and administration are remarkably similar.  In both cases, interruptions simply come with the territory.)

Laundromats make surprisingly good writing spots, since the white noise of the dryers is just enough to keep me focused.  The waiting room at the music place where TB and TG take lessons works really well, even though the wifi is spotty; the muffled sounds from the practice rooms provide good background noise, and the limited time and lack of other things to do provide a nice deadline effect.  I’ve even found a few cheap lunch spots near campus where I can get good wifi and a start on a blog post during my lunch break.  As an introvert, the occasional writing lunch keeps me sane.

Location also varies depending on the kind of writing.  For blog posts or other short pieces, I have a lot more flexibility than I do with, say, a book manuscript.  If I need several pieces of paper surrounding the keyboard, for various reasons, then the laundromat or takeout place just won’t do.  Proofreading long pieces on the screen doesn’t work for me; when I’m in Rewrite Hell, I need to be close to a printer.  And coffee.  And a music source.  And no sharp objects.

Writing in the office is hit-and-miss.  I don’t write blog posts there -- kind of a church/state thing -- but there’s a surprising amount of “daily business” writing that has to happen.  The office has a quick printer, which is a plus, but the pace doesn’t usually lend itself.  

I’ve heard from many faculty that they don’t usually write in their offices, either, and for similar reasons.  The location is too public; you’re sort of on call, and the interruptions can be serious.

Wise and worldly readers, where do you write?  Is there a particular spot that works consistently, or do you have to mix it up?  I’m especially curious about folks with youngish kids.  How do you balance focus with accessibility?  

I once wrote a very good chapter draft over several days while sitting in the crowded, noisy cafe of a ski field. That was the only way I could get the compromise of spending holiday fun time with the family while also meeting a deadline - two or three hours skiing in the morning then get out the laptop and write. That convinced me I really could write anywhere if I had to, though I still prefer to write in my home office. If I need a change of scenery I'll sit outside on the deck, but the light means I can only do pen and paper out there, as I can't see the laptop screen.
if I had to, though I still prefer to write in my home office
I might be one of them thar yung'uns you talk about...

I write in my office at work a lot. Otherwise, I have a desk pushed into a little niche in the dining room.

But, I find that my productivity in any one place starts to decline after a while, so I'll typically have Office->Home->Office... with a bit of "coffee shop" and "brewery" thrown in.
I helped create a whole community so I'd have a better place to write than the home office... but I still tend to type in a specific overstuffed chair at home.

That said, I tend to compose best while driving alone on long trips, or riding on airplanes and buses. Without a computer, needless to say.
I converted my spare bedroom to an office. I have all my reference works within easy reach, the kitchen is just downstairs, iTunes keeps m favourite music coming, and as I live alone interruptions are minimal.

The only times this doesn't work are on really hot days (when I need the windows open) when one of my neighbour's kids are playing outside. A talkative bossy girl who teases her younger sister into crying, a brother who shrieks and yaps just like a dog, and parents who repeat "I'm telling you for the last time, stop hitting her" for hours at a time, without doing anything more… The urge to bang a few heads together gets overwhelming :-(
Back when I was teaching at Research Intensive Technological Institute, I had a friend who was a theoretical physicist doing research in General Relativity. As a theorist, he needed to block out large amounts of time during which he could concentrate intensively on the problem at hand, without interruptions of any sort that would distract him from his line of thought.

He would close his office door and let it be known that he would brook no interruptions--no ringing telephones, no knocks on the door, and particularly no students. Students were told to show up only during his posted advising hours. People who violated these rules were likely to be shouted at and immediately shown the door.

Like many others at the Institute, he regarded the teaching part of his job as little more than an unneeded distraction from his research and publishing duties which were his primary interest. He would actually do a high-five when a student drop slip from one of his courses showed up in his mailbox.

Actually he was a pretty good teacher, and I know of at least one student who changed her major to physics because of his class.
These days I do most of my writing on my living room sofa. I don't have a home office so I take what I can get. I do some writing at the university but I'll get interrupted or distracted there a lot more easily than I will at home.
Funny you mention this. Just last month we got a new laptop, so I actually have a portable computer in the house again. (The battery died in the old one, I'm gonna say two years ago.) I've been writing on the porch, and it's heavenly.
I often use my PC to write at my home or office because, I feel comfortable using all tools. I have nice laptop screen which really helps me to write well.
I prefer paper writing and typing both. I am gonna get a better laptop screen replacement very soon then will start writing again wit laptop.
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