The Writing Process: Where

I’ve heard two conflicting schools of thought when it comes to a writing space.  Some argue that the writing space is sacred, and that you need to have an assigned space that is your writing space, where you know you’re there to write and do nothing else.  Others argue that you need to be ready to write anytime and anywhere, because it doesn’t matter; when the muse inspires you to write, you must be ready.  When I consider my own writing space, I break it down to three components: physical space, time, and mind space.

Before you set a pencil to paper or open up that word processor, you need to find your own writing space.  For some, it is easier than others.  In On Writing, Stephen King describes writing on a typewriter and a children’s desk before getting his own writing desk.  I’d imagine he’d be able to set up a piece of butcher paper on an ironing board and still manage to get his 2,000+ words per day on the page.  Max Barry, the writer behind Jennifer Government reportedly wrote in his car during his lunch breaks.  Somewhere, I once read that Hemingway would write while naked and standing in the middle of his kitchen; I’m not sure if that’s a joke, or if that’s the winning formula for a Pulitzer.  I write wherever I can find a comfortable space, but it usually amounts to the couch.  When I was first married, we had a broken old futon that served as our primary couch, and on more than one occasion as our guest bed.  We still have it, and it still serves as our guest bed.  If I had to guess how much of Absconded by Sin was written while on that futon, I’d place the number at about 90%, and think that I was guessing too low.  Nevertheless, this was my writing space through my first several completed works.

I’ve heard that a number of writers write in the morning. Barbara Kingsolver and Kurt Vonnegut are two such writers that I can verify through their own words, and I’ve seen Stephen King mention the same.  When I started out, I was a morning writer, too.  I would wake up with my wife, who had an early commute, make her lunch every morning, and then start writing as soon as she left.  If I was lucky, I’d be out doing errands by 10am.  If I wasn’t, then I’d still be on the futon at noon, wondering if I’d get out to the grocery store that day or be able to get in a short run before I started my run of job applications for the day.  Whichever way you looked at it, both my plans for the day and my physical location depended on just how much I’d written that morning.  Now, of course, I have other obligations, and I do most of my writing at night.  I’ll talk more about that in a later post.  Today, the only time I spend working on fiction in the morning is after the clock strikes midnight, if I have the energy.

Aside from the physical space, there’s also the mental space.  There was a time that I’d be in constant thought, entirely focused on my fiction writing.  It didn’t matter if I started at 7am or 11am, I was going to be working on that novel.  I would go out on a short run or a bike ride, or go to the store, and I was always thinking about Angela and Henry, the two protagonists of my story.  In fact, sometimes the mere act of rolling a cart through a store was the perfect subterfuge that allowed me to focus on ending a scene or identifying a character’s motivations.  Of course, things have changed since I started writing Absconded by Sin, and getting started is sometimes a more arduous task.  I do some of my best writing on Sundays, or after I’ve had time to decompress in the evenings.  It’s rare that I’m able to get home from work, hit the keyboard, and feel like my writing is truly at its best.  When I’m writing, and truly moving the cursor, I’m not thinking about work, and I’m not checking to see what my friends think about the new MCU movie trailer, I’m writing, and that’s all that’s going on between my two ears.

I am a writer of habit, and I have never been able to write for any sustained period while in a coffee shop.  Once, I spent the day writing from a park bench.  It was a very productive day, and that park bench was much better than a coffee shop.  However, from the perspective of physical comfort and mental space, neither was nearly as familiar as my time spent on that old futon.

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6 Responses to “The Writing Process: Where”

  1. ZurkPoetry Says:

    I’ve recently started a habit of writing again and I’ve found that no matter where I am it’s that sense of familiarity of my fingers on the keyboard, looking at my document on my laptop, that is my ‘writing space’!

    • jowenenglish Says:

      Yes, it’s funny how there’s a definite rhythm to writing that you can only acquire by more writing. That’s a neat way of looking at it, the document as your writing space, as it is either physical space or space as in memory on your computer / tablet / phone / in your Cloud.

  2. Dal Teleny (@DalTeleny) Says:

    Can anyone explain me how writing in a coffee shop is not unproductive showing off and a wasteful usurpation of seating space in a low-margin business establishment?

    • jowenenglish Says:

      I’m not sure how to respond to this one, Dal, as I’ve never been particularly productive in such a venue. I’d be interested to see if there is any correlation between coffee shops and productivity.

      Another study I’d like to see is effectively determining dollars spent per patron over time spent in a shop, and looking at that across various groups: writers, students studying, people on dates, etc. I know that writers who frequent coffee shops tend to spend a lot of time in those shops, but just how does that ratio of dollars to time differ? (e.g., are writers spending even $0.03/minute spent whereas people chatting tend to spend $0.10/minute spent?)

      I know this doesn’t answer your question, except (a) it hasn’t been productive to me, (b) I can see where it is showing off, and (c) I have no metric for knowing how much of a “wasteful usurpation” it is, nor any real frame of reference, as I don’t indulge in it myself.

      • Dal Teleny (@DalTeleny) Says:

        OK, I must’ve sounded really smug and dismissive but I’d really love to hear from someone who can confirm that they are most productive in such surroundings. I’d be in awe of them.

      • jowenenglish Says:

        From your initial post, I thought you were an irate cafe owner! Yes, I’d love to know how people who do most of their writing in cafes do it!

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