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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