In the tiny townhouse in Northern Virginia where I lived before I retired, for years I was tethered to a single place to write–an upstairs “bedroom,” which I declared my office, with a chunky, Dell desktop. I think prisoners in SuperMax have a bigger cell than that 10′ x 10′ space, but, boy, was I productive there. With my stereo blasting whatever music I was into at the time, I wrote a trilogy and the somewhat fleshed-out skeletons of three more novels.
When I purchased a laptop, I became rather bohemian–at least what passed for that in the Yuppie Capital of the Free World–and could write in book-store cafes (loved Olssen’s in Old Town) and coffee shops, not to mention any room in the house, on the road for work, on vacation, etc. Re the latter: It helps to have a supportive partner, and I did. He got that I needed space to write and didn’t begrudge it.
I’m happy to say I can write almost anywhere, whether using a laptop, a Moleskine reporter’s notepad, or a spiral notebook. Sometimes a notebook is good, especially when you’re people-watching to get ideas for characters. You could be writing a grocery list and no one knows you’re jotting down what’s being said or how someone acts.
There comes a time, though, in any writer’s life where you need to focus on a particular writing project to the exclusion of all else. When that time comes for me, it can’t be in a coffee shop or working in the gift shop at the R. R. Smith Center in Staunton. I have to be in seclusion. On the Myers-Briggs scale, I’m a very high (as in off-the-scale) E, meaning I’m energized most and best by external stimulus. When I need to focus on a writing project, the latent I, meaning I prefer to do a Greta Garbo, emerges.
I’m lucky in the house I bought after retirement to have a primary and a secondary writing area, which I use alternately depending on how strong the “I” becomes.
The primary area is my home office, which you can see here (above):
It has a lot of advantages–actually, it has the most advantages. You see my bookcase of reference books (U.S. history, world history, writing), which are at hand. (And, yes, you see the odd juxtapositions in my life: my NASCAR collection next to my Star Trek collectibles.) It has my really powerful iMac and my comfy ergonomic chair. Just to the left, out of the picture, is my satellite radio, which can bring me a constant stream of inspirational music. That, too, can be an interesting and eclectic mix–from heavy metal (Rob Zombie and Nine Inch Nails) to Celtic (Irish Rovers and Tommy Makem) to opera.
As many advantages as this wonderful room has, it has a major distraction–this amazing view of the Blue Ridge Mountains (below). And, yes, I took the shot through the window for verisimilitude. I can be in the middle of something and glance out the window and get completely lost in the wonderful place where I chose to live.
Curtains, you suggest? Uh, why would I cover that up? The tiny office in the old townhouse looked out onto the parking area in the cul-de-sac, so that was rarely a distraction. The view above can figuratively or literally pull me out of my chair to go outside.
Which can be good for clearing the cobwebs with a nice walk, but it happens too often.
On many occasions, then, I retire to my secondary writing area, well away from any commanding views.
This area (above) is a nook in my bedroom, where I can’t be distracted by the outdoors. The view is the wall, or the nice artwork above, but that’s hardly as alluring as the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is a television in that room, but my back is to it, and it has a decent selection of music channels. I have to have some background noise–always have, much to the consternation of parents who couldn’t understand that homework could be done while singing along with the Beatles.
The disadvantage of this writing area is that if I need something from one of the reference books, that means a trek across the house (oh, horrors) to obtain it. Of course, there’s always The Google. (What toys were popular among pre-teens in 1989? Why, I’ll Google it.)
Wow, what a dilemma, you say, voice torqued by sarcasm. I know. But the secondary writing area, where I am, as I write this, is the least distracting. I often end up here, like a troglodyte in a dim cave, but the productivity is welcome.
Keeping track of versions of the same work on two computers? That’s a whole, other issue.
In the meantime, find your writing place, the one where you’re most productive, where the words come unbidden, and live there.
(Note: I used my two favorite words ever in this post. Can you find them?)