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Monday, July 8, 2013

Where to Write? An Experiment

by Janis Patterson
I’m lucky. I have an office. Well, that’s a bit grandiose. I have a tiny desk against one wall in our very small guest room. There’s also a very good sort-of ergonomic chair with good back support, a printer stand, a ceiling fan and a radio/CD player. Of course, there’s also a double bed, dresser, chest of drawers and all the other regular guest room paraphernalia. Yes, it’s crowded, but it is mine, and there are two doors I can close against the intrusions of the outside world. It’s also a great big step up from my days of using the dining room table.
Lately, though, I’ve been hearing a lot about going ‘someplace else’ to write. Some swear by trendy coffee shops, others cafes, others parks… just about anyplace that isn’t their home or office. I can see this, if your home or office is noisy, interruptive, non-existent or in some other way inconducive to the business of writing. Being of an experimentive nature, though, I decided to test it – several times, in fact, with a good friend who also writes.
Hmmm. It wasn’t altogether a success. Out in the world, a world full of distractions, I wasn’t able to concentrate as well and found myself missing points I had intended to use in the scenes I wrote. Neither was it pleasant working on what I call my purse computer, a small netbook purchased mainly for travel or for inescapable waiting times such as at the garage or doctor’s office.
I also felt something like a zoo exhibit. One of the places I went to write – a favorite restaurant owned by a long-time friend – was very gracious about having us there. There was a nice-sized corner table, an attentive staff who kept refilling our iced tea, and nice air-conditioning. There was also constant music, much louder than I prefer and not to my working taste. (This was salsa, which normally I like, but I prefer to write to classical, if to any music at all.) Our host had teased about putting out a sign saying ‘Please Do Not Feed The Writers’ but he didn’t, probably since I had threatened him with his life if he did.
Still, I feel something had leaked out, for many patrons took the long way around to the rest room, all passing close to our table and staring as they did so. The recurring movement and attention was most distracting. 
On a more concrete level, a table meant for eating is a different height from a desk, giving your arms and wrists a different and ultimately very tiring angle. I learned that lesson in the years I had to use the dining room table, and it was one of the reasons I bought a real desk. And a separate ergonomic keyboard, as the tiny straight keyboard on my writing laptop (to say nothing of the netbook!) are much too small for comfort.
The true deal-breaker, though, was the chair. Restaurant and coffee shop chairs are not made for real comfort in the long term. My back, injured long ago and held together pretty much with spit and baling wire, loves being pampered by my ergonomic chair with the adjustable back support. It does not like hours spent working in a commercial dining chair and was very definite in letting me know its displeasure. Or maybe I’m just a wuss, but no place I went to write was very comfortable – all of which showed in my work, I’m sure. 
I don’t know how my friend’s output was, save that she was satisfied with it, but I wasn’t impressed by mine at all. I produced less than half of what I would have in the same time in my office, and the chapters I wrote while away needed much more revision than any produced at home.
Was it a waste of time? No, not completely. I enjoyed lunching with my friend, as I always do, and the afternoons spent writing ‘away’ were pleasurable, but if anything they proved that – for me, at least – they are ‘hobby’ and not professional sessions. In the future if I want to meet a friend for lunch, I will, and I will eat and drink and enjoy it. If I want to work, I will go in to my office and work. A social occasion is a social occasion and work is work.
I realize that my situation is optimum – a home office, however cramped, with all the tools I need to follow my profession. Not everyone has these luxuries, and I applaud those who strive on and write whatever situation they face. When one does have an office, though, it seems counterproductive to go write ‘away.’ Again, I speak only for myself. Everyone has to find their own path for writing. Mine is in my office with my back-pampering chair and my ergonomic keyboard, both doors closed and soft classical music playing. The most important thing for every writer, however, is producing the words. However, wherever – whatever works best. 

20 comments:

Shelley Munro said...

I'm one that has a better writing day if I leave the house. At home, I can procrastinate something fierce, but in a cafe I have to stay at the same spot. The interruptions and to and fro of people doesn't bother me. I just switch off.

Having said that, I had a great day of writing at home today. My current WIP really wants to get written :)

Shirley Wells said...

I have to shut myself away in my office with no distractions. I can't even cope well with music. I'm far too easily distracted if there are people around to watch. :)

Anne Marie Becker said...

I find that I get more done at the coffee shop. For some reason, I'm better able to tune out the hustle and bustle around me than I am at home. (Probably because the patrons aren't demanding something from "Mommy" every 30 seconds. )

Like Shelley, I find it hard to stop procrastinating at home, too. I'll find all manner of things to do...dishes, laundry, cleaning, etc. When I go to the coffee shop and pay for an expensive drink, I feel the pressure to produce words. ;) Fascinating how everyone is different!

Kaye George said...

I find that I can do rough draft, first copy material in other places, but I love my office and my desktop and my chair, too. I just bought an ergonomic keyboard last week and my thumbs are loving it.

My biggest distraction is email and social media, but they sometimes serve to give my mind a break before getting back to it.

Kathleen Kaska said...

I usually prop by myself up in bed with my laptop on my lap. When I get to the point where I'm struck, frustrated, or anxious, I leave the house and head for a local coffee shop (after changing out of my PJs of course). The change in venue always works. However, I read something last night in my Runner's magazine that concerned me. I discovered a new term for people who are physically active, but have jobs that require them to sit the rest of the day. Yes, that's me; a runner/writer. Anyway, the term is ACTIVE couch potato. I won't go into details, but I learned that I should get off my tush at least once an hour for my body and well as my mind.

Allison Chase said...

I could never write at Starbucks or any other public place. I don't have a dedicated office in the house, although I've pretty much set up in my daughter's room since she's away at school all year except for short visits home. I like quiet, no distractions, and I like having my notebooks and research material close at hand.

Kathy Ivan said...

I have a dedicated office, for which I'm eternally grateful. I can go in and close the door and lose myself in the world that I've created. I find I'm not productive at all when I'm outside at a restaurant or coffee shop.

Like you, Susan, I love having my ergonomic chair and ergonomic keyboard. Saves so much wear and tear on this old body. LOL

Anonymous said...

When writing at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble I put Bach on a loop so the same song repeats over and over creating a calm within the chaos.

At home I have a desk but more often than not I write on the dining table where the sun is brighter and I can spread out. If I'm alone, I like silence, but if my co-writer and I are working together we will have our headphones on until we need to talk to each other. :-)

Edi Ojeda

Pamela Stone said...

I can't write with distractions. Even in my own house, I need a quiet place. I used to write in a recliner with the TV on very quietly just for company. Now that my mom lives with us, I prefer my bedroom. Sometimes at my desk and sometimes in a huge round chair I treated myself to a couple years ago. I even tried the patio, but the silly birds and bunnies kept distracting me.

Morgan Mandel said...

My desk is smack dab along the wall in the dining room. Since we almost never entertain guests, except for Christmas and other Holidays, my writing space is not private at all. I turn on the radio in the kitchen for background, and type. For some reason, I don't like the thought of being shut away in another room all by myself. It cramps my creativity.

Morgan Mandel
http://www.morganmandel.com

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I have my personal workspace set up in a corner of our master bedroom. It works just fine for me. Early every morning, I turn on my computer and I'm off to work.

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

i'm a stay at home writer. oh, I've pulled out the pad and jotted down scenes that were in my head, even on a grocery sack one time when a pad wasn't available, but for it to be cohesive and made sense to anyone but me, I need the old computer.

Cindy Sample said...

I had a cha cha injury several years ago so sitting was a very uncomfortable experience for a few months. I put my laptop on my elevated wet bar and I've been standing and typing ever since. I'm not sure that qualifies as my daily exercise, but it helps minimize "writer spread!"

Elise Warner said...

Turned the extra bedroom into my office complete with computer, chair,files and a carpet strewn with papers with research, notes etc. I do go into the bedroom and stretch out when it's time to proof.

Sheila Claydon said...

I have a home office which has everything necessary and in the right place. It's a great space for writing and I do spend a lot of time there but I only really need it for editing because I find I can tune out the world and write anywhere…even in front of the TV while my husband is watching sport so that he doesn't feel I've shut him out of my day. I've written in airports, on planes, on trains, in other people's houses, on holiday, in the garden…it doesn't seem to matter where…but editing is another thing entirely. That has to happen in the office, in silence!

Jean Harrington said...

Location, location, location! No I'm not a realtor; couldn't resist using their line.

Actually, your "office" sounds exactly like mine with one exception--I don't have a radio in here.

Cathy Perkins said...

For me, it's less about the location and more about the 9 million other things pulling at me!

Rebecca York said...

I pride myself on being able to write ANYWHERE, at least for short periods of time. I used to have an office. I gave it to dh, who has cluttered it up w/ all the stuff he won't throw away. I move around the house w/ my laptop. I have two ergonomic chairs, one on the porch and one in the sun room. I work in either of those places and also on a bed--either in our bedroom or the guest room. Beds are great for spreading out the work if you are transcribing editing from a paper ms into the computer file. I did a bunch of paper editing recently on the plane on our trip back from Turkey.

Monica T. Rodriguez said...

I also find many distractions at home, from chores to other people who think if you're home, you're available. Unfortunately, my chair at home isn't any better you'd find in a cafe, so no points there.

Although I don't do it often enough, going to a cafe makes it impossible to stop and do laundry. I can put headphones on to block out all the noise and listen to my choice of music (classical or music w/o lyrics to distract), and there's a steady supply of coffee and food. It's a nice change of scenery for me.

Nicole Luiken said...

I used to have an small corner of the bedroom carved out as office space, but because it was upstairs I felt I could only use it when the kids were abed or being supervised elsewhere. Getting a tiny netbook that I can set up at the kitchen table or anywhere and still keep an eye on the kids has given me MORE writing time. (I've learned over the years to write around interruptions.)

The writing away from home (for me at a local indoor playground) helps when I'm having trouble editing a specific scene. If I'm at home, there's the temptation to pick up a book. When I go out to write, it's edit the darn scene or be bored to death.

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