In this, my first blog of many (I hope) on the subject of all things wordy, I wanted to kick off by examining the environments we find conducive to our writing. Sure, we could start by chatting about vowels and the finer points of grammar, or even leap straight in with discussions about chapter structure and sub-plots.
But where we choose to write is every bit as important as what we write.
The classic story goes that parts of Harry Potter were jotted down on napkins in an Edinburgh café. If nothing else, the notion that we can – and should – be willing to note down ideas as they occur to us is very praiseworthy. I always keep a tiny notebook in my bag. Its words are often as much about reminders to pick up a bottle of milk as they are musings about how a person is standing or a witty retort in an overheard conversation (writers are shameless eavesdroppers). However, the act of pinning down our thoughts is a valuable habit to get into – even when we struggle to make sense of our handwriting afterwards.
Please note that there are plenty of electronic gizmos available that will negate this danger, but I’ve always found something deeply comforting about the written word being written. Oh, naturally it’s hard to justify committing exclusively to paper and pen – especially for anything longer than a short story or limerick, and even more so when there are so many astonishingly useful programs around to make our job easier. But there should always be a place for the humble notepad, and that’s within easy reach at all times.
But what about the hour – or five – that you’ve set aside in your day to get on with your serious work? My writing haven is currently a flat-pack computer desk, surrounded by a stately collection (I almost say horde) of books on every subject from Russian history to cult film art, from James Clavell to Anne McCaffrey. There is ample but subdued lighting; in my opinion bright, overhead bulbs belong in operating theatres, not offices. My physical notes, in box files and folders, are all within easy reach, and I have the privilege of owning a second monitor so that additional documents can be displayed alongside my main writing, if necessary. Having everything to hand is a crucial factor in my – or anyone’s – writing workspace; if you have to constantly get up and down from your chair to look something up, or find a pen, you’ll never be able to focus on the main event. Sitting for long periods anywhere is extremely uncomfortable for me, so although I must by necessity get up to move around from time to time, I make sure that my chair is the most supportive, forgiving piece of furniture in the room.
The environment we work in must also be emotionally comfortable. No loud music, no cars coming and going just outside the window, and a definite understanding from everyone in the house that, when my door is closed, I’m in work-mode. When I come in and pull the door to, I’m concentrating– even if it’s only for half an hour because I went shopping yesterday and have the energy of a Valium-infused dormouse. During study-time, my wall usually sprouts calendars and sticky notes like a methodical form of measles, but overall I like to keep my workspace as clutter-free as possible. It’s one less thing to worry about when a cat nonchalantly strolls by to remind me to take a break.
I hope, with this first blog, I’ve given a glimpse into my working environment – and opened up questions about your own. Do you have a routine or ritual before you settle down to write? Are there any mascots sitting next to your monitor (mine’s a snow leopard)? Are you crammed into a corner of the living room, snatching fives minutes between toddler nap times, or are you writing at a walnut desk in a studio apartment overlooking the ocean? I’d love to know your stories, so feel free to share!
A writer’s haven by J. R. Milward is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.