Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Room to Write

Should it make a difference where you write or how you write? Would it make any difference to your work if you were tucked away in a little cubbyhole under the stairs and surrounded by a mound of clothes that need ironing, or in a well-lit spacious area and sitting comfortably at a desk?

Writers are very good at adapting to their environments in order to write, and sometimes there is no choice, but is it enough to be creative? Not all writers are lucky enough to have an office to work in. Most have to make do with a corner of the dining room table or the kitchen counter or even the bedroom, but do small spaces crammed with junk or toys or boxes or clothes provide a productive environment for creativity? Some writers say they don’t mind it, while others wouldn’t be able to open their minds if surrounded by clutter or cramped by lack of space to work.

The way we work as writers is important, and where we work is just as vital to how we work.

All writers are different; each of us has a preference to what works for us. Are you one of those writers that can work through all sorts of noise, like a café, a bustling street, or on the move on trains or buses? Or are you a writer that prefers the solitude of peace and quiet to get things done? J.K. Rowling famously created Harry Potter in Edinburgh’s coffee shops, after all, and seemed to relish the sounds of cafe life.

How important is a quiet writing space?

The space to write is as personal as a fingerprint; it’s a place for thinking, motivation, brainstorming, creativity and productivity. Are you really able to formulate ideas in the kitchen while the TV in the next room is blaring and the kids are running amok? Probably not.

Writers often they have to share their space with family members and so thorough, productive writing can prove difficult to achieve. Every writer should have a space of their own to create and write; otherwise there may be a tendency to produce work that falls short of their ability. Of course, this ‘writing space’ isn’t always possible and some writers are quite happy working while on the move or in crowded, busy places. Ted Hughes wrote in a small hallway with a small table and chair, but maintained this space was incredibly productive. Nabokov wrote standing up, at a lectern, and penned his work on index cards. Philip Roth also works at a lectern, turned away from the view of the city so as not to distract. There is no right or wrong in terms of how and where you work.

A quiet working space, however, provides somewhere to reflect and work. The solitude is sometimes actively sought by writers. Many escape the bustle of family life and spend a few hours working in the relative hush of a library. Ernest Hemingway preferred peace and quiet to push out just 500 words a day.

Capote preferred lying down when being creative. He wrote while in bed, or on the couch, while others such as Agatha Christie, were said to have been inspired by having a bath or doing the dishes.

Then there are those writers who really enjoy going out to write. The outdoor sounds and scents of busy towns and cities, or indeed the countryside, can get those creative juices flowing in different ways. Rather than prove a distraction, they inspire and aid imagination.

Does the writing space have to matter?

It’s not vital, because a writing space doesn’t necessarily mean you need a well-organised office with all the mod cons. Many writers are happy to use converted lofts, sheds, cabins, huts and garages as writing spaces. Edgar Allen Poe liked to write in the attic. John Updike preferred different settings to write. “A few places are especially conducive to inspiration – automobiles, church, public places...”

Some writers - myself included - prefer working in a space where there is nothing to interrupt the energy of the work. That means no clutter, no noise and no interruptions. Erica Jong once said, “The most important thing for a writer is to be locked in a study...”

Whether it is an office, café, the garage, the kitchen or the basement, use the space that works for you, if it really does help you write, but very often having the room and the comfort to write will help the creative process in so many ways.

Problems of not having room to write:

• Frustration can easily set in and writers quickly become bored with writing.
• The lack of a distinct writing space can restrict creativity and productivity and result in the inability to focus.
• The work produced falls short of your ability.
• Not having clearly defined spaces for you and your family can also cause frustration and friction from constant interruptions.
• You haven’t defined working times with your family so they constantly interrupt you.
• Difficulty with organising and finding your work in the piles of junk you’ve amassed on kitchen counters or the dining room table.
• Not sitting correctly or comfortably while in cramped spaces can cause health problems with your back, wrist joints and neck. If you’re working at the kitchen top or on the bed, your posture might suffer because of it. Give your back a break and make sure your posture isn’t going to cause problems later.
• The area is dark and not very well lit or has no natural light. This can cause eyestrain and headaches.
• Working in untidy, cluttered spaces prevents the mind from focusing. It makes it hard to find the files or books or papers that you need, you have no room to actually contemplate or work.

Having the room to write, having the space to think, having the freedom to create. These are as individual as writers are, but these are more conducive to productivity than they would like to admit. A space away from distractions and noise, somewhere that relaxes and helps to produce words, somewhere to provide respite and reflection can be a necessary means of writing to the best of your ability.

Spaces, rooms, areas, boundaries. Writers need them. “The really great writers are people like Emily Brontë who sit in a room and write out of their limited experience and unlimited imagination.”
James A. Michener.

Next week: Sentence styling - finding sentence rhythm and structure.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting post. I've just been blogging about writing versus typing, as I was on a train journey recently and got far more new writing done than I do at home! I also like to write in Costa one morning a week, while having coffee.

    So, although I have my own space in which to write and type at home, I guess I like a more varied venue for the actual creative work sometimes.

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  2. Great post, AJ. I don't have a particular place that I write, although I have a "galley" landing upstairs with a desk that I should use more. I have different moods when writing but mostly prefer to have some kind of noise in the background as total silence can sometimes work against me. Each to their own.

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