A friend of mine just finished the working first draft of her first novel the other day. This is a momentous feat in and of itself, but it is particularly so in my eyes given the fact that I have yet to be able to write more than a few paragraphs of my first novel at a time. So, after congratulating her on a job well done, I asked her to “teach me [her] novel writing ways.” The advice she gave me was simple: get out of the house. She recommended going to a Starbucks or the library and putting on some headphones, because in her experience, as she explained, “As soon as I came home at 7:30pm, I was diddle daddling all night long. I was on the computer for five hours, and only started kind of writing at 11:30pm.”
This is advice that I’ve not only heard before, but have practiced myself. In fact, a good portion of my novel thus far was written at none other than Starbucks and the library. This strategy is done by many writers in many different disciplines. For example, Joss Whedon recently said in an interview with Ari Kapel at Fast Company that he writes in restaurants and cafes so that he can “go and get chocolate” to reward himself every time he has an idea. Note that this is when he just gets the idea, not when he actually writes it out; seems like pretty good operant conditioning in my book, especially if writing it out means more chocolate!
But if you’re like me and either have a limited disposable income and/or can’t spend more than a couple of hours working in a library without getting stir crazy (mostly because they remind me of many sleepless nights cramming for finals), then it isn’t feasible to write an entire novel outside of the house. This is why I said that a portion of my manuscript was written at Starbucks, rather than all of it; there were just some days where I had no choice but to stay at home and force myself to not turn on Netflix or clean the kitchen (one of my more productive avoidance techniques, I must say, second only to scrubbing out the bathtub) and just write.
So what is a house-bound writer to do? One answer that many have turned to is the Writing Room: that sacred, magical room that a writer retreats to in order to slave away at the keyboard/notebook/typewriter for hours or days (maybe even weeks) at a time in order to create his or her literary worlds. This is the introverted writer’s dream room, a place writers claim as their own personal space that is to be used solely for writing and occasionally reading. Each room is as unique as its creator, a point that is illustrated in a recent piece in the The New York Times called “A Writer’s Room,” which features pictures of acclaimed writers in their writing rooms and interview snippets of them talking about their rooms. Jhumpa Lahiri, for example, says that her room in her Rome apartment was originally used as a dining room, but that she “knew right away that [she] wanted to work there” (I’m guessing the chandelier had a bit of a role to play in that decision). Jonathan Lethem, meanwhile, says that his writing room had belonged to a now-deceased writer named Esther Wood who he says is a more famous writer in the neighborhood than him.
Other writers included in the piece are Richard Dawkins, Julian Barnes, and Edwidge Danticat. Be sure to check out their rooms and discussions here.
Now, an entire room devoted purely to writing is not a possibility for everyone either, particularly those of us who aren’t hugely successful, award winning writers whose books regularly make it onto the New York Times Bestseller’s list for weeks at a time. For instance, when I was going to graduate school I was living in a studio apartment. I would’ve been happy to just have a bedroom separate from the living room; the concept of having a writing room never even crossed my mind, and certainly not one with a chandelier in it (though, a chandelier might’ve added some much needed revelry in that dreary little hovel). Other friends lived in two or three bedroom apartments, but they had roommates filling the spare bedrooms. So what are our options? Do we even have any?
Yes! We have plenty! You don’t need an entire room to devote to writing, just one special spot that you use solely for doing what you love. This could be a desk in a doorless closet, which was my writing space in my studio apartment, a favorite couch or chair, or even a particularly comfy spot of carpet on the floor. It doesn’t even need to be inside; since moving out of my charming (read: soul-crushing) studio apartment and back home to the Bay Area, I’ve taken to using a table out in the backyard to get my writing done.
When it boils down to it, whether its in a coffee shop, a writing room, or a desk in a doorless closet, the only truly important thing to do when trying to find a place to write is to figure out where you’re (gasp!) ACTUALLY GOING TO WRITE. One type of place is not any better than another; it really, truly, all comes down to personal preference. What’s the point of spending an arm and a leg on rent for a two bedroom apartment in order to have a writing room if you can only get any writing done while you’re sipping a skinny vanilla latte at Starbucks? Or spending every day in the library trying to work when you’re so distracted by how much you hate libraries that nothing gets done?
Only you can know what type of space would work best for you. If you’re the type of person who needs a certain amount of background noise and people milling around in order to focus on your writing, then go to a coffee shop or a park. If you’re the type who needs absolute silence and no distractions whatsoever, then work in a windowless corner of your living space or maybe even a basement a la Ray Bradbury. Or maybe some days you work outside, some days inside, depending on whatever mood you happen to be in. Experiment with writing in different places and see what jives best with you (and your wallet), and maybe one day you’ll be such a successful writer that you’ll have a chandelier in your writing space too.