A Room of One’s Own: Does where you do your writing matter?

24th May 2018

Cultivating the idea for a novel is one thing, but having the perseverance to keep at it, to work away at the words, carving out characters and imagining entire worlds and spaces that only exist in the author’s head? That’s a whole other matter.

It can’t be written overnight. A manuscript can take months, years or even decades to grow into something tangible, original and worth publishing.

So you’ve got a plan. You know your protagonist inside out. What makes her tick. Her greatest fear. What she wants, what she really, really wants. Her love interests. Her dreams, big and small. You now understand your character more than you understand life itself.

But as you sit at your working space of choice, you become painfully aware of that loud ticking clock, the building work going on next door – those damn drills and that ridiculous industrial petrol lawnmower. Why is he always mowing his lawn?! And before you know it, the day is disappearing before your very eyes. Every minute of every single hour just passes through you like running water.

Coffee! Coffee will fix this! You manage to convince yourself that caffeine will free the writer within. It has to. And then, after a big, steamy cup of Tesco’s Finest Ethiopian blend (Grade 4), you will be ready to sit down and write your masterpiece.

In my experience, we are a funny breed of human, us writers. As we go about ordinary tasks – washing up, ironing, emptying the contents of the fridge – we imagine scenes, orchestrate scenarios and while away time establishing certain auspicious plot points that make up the bones of the story. It’s as if there’s a miniature MacBook Air tap, tap, tapping away in our cerebral cortex, jotting down all the important points and things to return to later.

We go about our business until one day, it comes to us like some fictitious and highly-exaggerated light bulb moment. That’s it! We stop in our tracks. Looking about frantically for a pen, a piece of paper, a receipt, anything!

We obsess over that one genius poetic line that literally fell from the sky and landed on our head like a ripe piece of fruit. Then we despair as that line morphs into something entirely different, as we travel from supermarket to bus to laptop.

Writers love to dream. Writers love to sleep. Writers love to do anything that doesn’t involve the hard graft of writing.Writers love to dream. Writers love to sleep. Writers love to do anything that doesn’t involve the hard graft of writing. To sculpt and shape a story from nothing takes skill, passion and belief in your characters and the story you want to tell. But above all else, it takes dedication.

There is something that must be considered in the construction of a sentence and the execution of a solid narrative. It’s obvious really: environment. The importance of a good writing environment cannot be underestimated. Every writer needs a private, comfortable space to imagine, think and create.

It’s also important to pay attention to when you’re at your most productive. Consider, for example, the time of day. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Are you too tired after a day in the office to even think about your story? If so, perhaps your dedicated writing time needs to be in the mornings and on weekends.

Maybe you have little children running around all over the place, creating noise and mess wherever they go. If this is you, could you arrange childcare for a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday? It’s amazing how productive you can be when you have a few hours of dedicated writing time. Find a way to escape the little rascals for a while, pop into a coffee shop and set yourself a challenge to write, write, write as much as you can for an hour.

If you live in a chaotic, frantic, dirty, messy shared house and the anxiety of it all is crushing your very soul, then you must leave. Temporarily, at least. If you need quiet, drag your writing self to a library and shut out the noise. You like the buzz? Me too. Make coffee shops your BFFL and thank me later. I’m a flat white with oat milk.

The right environment can be endlessly inspiring. I’ve been known to steal whole lines of dialogue from the mouths of hungry cafe dwellers, in order to feed the empty pages in front of me. It’s very satisfying because it requires zero effort, just scrupulous attention to detail. Ideal for the lazy writers among us.

Catch snippets of conversation, lines and brief exchanges and bank them for later. You never know when you might need a little something to get the creative juices flowing.

Are you a sucker for a Sycamore and the smell of fresh cow dung as it wafts from fields afar? You’re in good company. Virginia Woolf wrote in a revamped potting shed that overlooked the Sussex countryside during the warm summer months. You may not have the luxury of working in an annexe or shed, but if you can, try moving your desk so it faces the great outdoors. In recent months, I repositioned my own desk so it’s now facing my back garden. I may be more distracted, but I’m more inspired, too.

Think about the space around you. Make tweaks according to your preference and mood. Do you prefer a tidy desk with a pot of pens and a clock face, or would you rather a busier surface with books, a dictionary and a candle with a flickering flame?

Jane Austen wrote some of her finest works, including Emma and Persuasion, on a very small table. Size matters and so does the height. Are you a leg-crosser? If the answer is ‘yes’ and your table is too low for this popular leg posture, can you adjust the height of your chair to accommodate? If not, you may need to reconsider.

Finally, writers, if you’re struggling to stay focused and motivated and need a little help along the way, there are a few things you can try. Writing apps such as Pacemaker provide the tools to log your progress and set daily writing tasks. There’s nothing more satisfying than logging your word count and seeing the results at the end of each working day.

And there are tons of writers’ groups and meetups, especially if you live in a city or large town. Reach out and connect with other authors, share your ideas and if you’re brave enough, read excerpts out loud and welcome the feedback.

Look after yourself. Take walks. Eat greens. Coffee and wine. Accept the noises around you. Appreciate the imperfections. Understand that every writer’s journey is different.

Sit back, breathe, listen and write.

Natalie Baker is a freelance writer and editor based in Blackheath. Her poems and short stories have been featured in Occulum, Synaesthesia Magazine and The Bacon Review, and she is a fundraising coordinator and regular blogger for Bloody Good Period. She is currently attempting her first literary novel. Follow her here: @NataBakeEditor