Writing Nowadays–Anywhere!

Supposedly, the hallmark of a true writer is the ability to write anywhere, under any circumstances. This idea came about because most writers don’t actually write full time. They’re forced to work around a day job, a spouse, children, and other responsibilities that nose their way into writing time like a litter of needy puppies. As a result, many authors learn to write in the waiting room at the dentist’s office or at soccer practice or at lunch. It’s a badge of honor to turn out a novel to while on vacation or in the hospital or at Aunt Selma’s funeral. Those who can only write at their desk, with the door shut, with music on, with the kids out of the house, are defective or– worse–divas.

I don’t quite believe that.

The writing process varies enormously from writer to writer. For some, the words build up and come spilling out. Others have to chisel them out of granite. A few have to hunt them down and kill them. Some get lost in their own worlds and murmur a distracted, “Sure, honey” when the kids ask if they can put the cat in the washing machine, and others watch their concentration shatter like a crystal goblet if a fly buzzes through the room.

I think a certain amount of writing anywhere-ness can be learned. Just as a driver can learn to handle the distractions of heavy traffic, a writer can learn to handle some distractions of everyday life. But I don’t really believe that anyone can learn to write anywhere. It’s an inborn talent. Some do it with ease, some become much better with practice, some can do it but hate it, and some simply can’t get the hang of it no matter how hard they try.

My preferred writing environment is, of course, my own desk, the one I custom-fitted for my height and for the fact that I’m left-handed. (The pen-writing surface is on the left and the printer is on the right.) Here I have my extensive music library and a view of trees. It’s not perfect–the kids still burst in with their needs and I can still hear the boom and thud of video games from the living room below. I can close the door, true, and sometimes I do, but I’m always on duty as a father. I’ve learned to write around these distractions. But there have been times when I get angry or frustrated because the boys come in one more time with something small or stupid or foolish. The frustration makes it harder to write, which makes me more frustrated and angry, which in turn makes it harder to write. At times like this, I find myself longing for a castle in Bavaria.

I could relocate, go to the library or a coffeehouse or a restaurant. But there the chairs wouldn’t be as comfortable, and I’d have to wear headphones to hear music, and I’d have to use a laptop instead of my high-powered computer, and I’d have to drive half an hour there and half an hour home again. I’d rather deal with the distractions at home.

I have learned a certain amount of write anywhere-ness, though. This blog was written over a period of days in various hotel lobbies at World Fantasy Convention, for example. It did take longer to compose, though. All the interesting people walking by were a constant distraction.

What kind of writer are you? Can you write anywhere?

–Steven Harper Piziks
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Writing Nowadays–Anywhere! — 7 Comments

  1. I can write anywhere — I’ve taken a netbook to work and done it at lunch and gotten quite a bit done. I need it reasonably quiet, though. Chatter of lots of people or loud music playing in the background ends up being too distracting for me to do much.

  2. A cliche, I know, but I think we do what we have to do at the time. When I had small children, I’d sit at baseball games and write. I was that desperate to get the words out. These days, I’m spoiled rotten, and the ringing of the telephone causes me to bash keyboards. And I’m starting to think that I need to get outside my office and find more mental stimulation to keep the words running. Our creative brains are never static. They always want what they don’t have, greedy critters.

  3. As a passionate kid and teen writer, I could write anywhere any time. I lived in a very crowded house, so I learned early to shut out noise; my biggest problem was being near-sighted. I used to walk to the high school (about three miles) at five a.m. as the sun was coming up, just so I could position my notebook on the cement balcony, which came up to chest height, so I could comfortably write and see the words without crouching over them. (I eventually got glasses.)

    This ability was problematical when I became a parent. I could shut myself in so effectively that I needed a joggle to break out of writing mode into mom mode. I did have anxiety dreams about being oblivious to some disaster, because the closing off was not advertent. It had become habitual. But we all survived.

    Now I have the work area I always dreamed of–no view, it’s true, that can’t be helped–but artwork and bookcases to make up for it, music, all my stuff. And I am grateful every single day.

  4. I used to be a closet writer, only indulging when no one else was around. I grew up in a very practical household where writing was considered a nice little hobby but I shouldn’t pin any expectations on it. I’d fail and go broke (the ultimate failure, no money).

    When I finally took my writing seriously and announced to said family that I can’t know I’ve failed until I’ve tried, and I haven’t failed until I quit, it became easier to spread my writing gear–note books advanced to typewriters advanced to computers–on the dining room table, the writing anywhere became a badge of honor.

  5. It’s true I can write most any place. Some of my most productive writing sessions take place in fast food restaurants. Which is very interesting considering I hate fast food. But there is something about the McDonald’s in Auburn that just makes me want to write. Sure its noisy and the music is horrible and there is this constant beeping form the fryer, but none of the matters.
    There is however one place I cannot write – hospitals. I found that out about a year ago when my dad had a small stroke and spent a weekend at Bay Medical. I tried to write but it just did not happen. It may be because of the years I spent as a nurse’s aid and that I am attuned to hear every tone and bell and monitor alarm on the whole floor.
    And just a side note. Steven I’ve known you for close to twenty years now but I was totally unaware that you are left handed. How did I miss that detail?