Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 6: Question 6

Part of the 30 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

6. Where are you most comfortable writing? At what time of day? Computer or pen and paper?

Many of my favourite writers advise that if you want to be a productive writer, it is best not to have a preferred place to write, nor to restrict yourself to a certain time of day or to one writing medium. Take a pen and paper with you everywhere you go. “Write on the bus to work… Write on your lunch hour… Throughout the day, you can amass words like a squirrel storing nuts.”* My writing partner K.F. Goodacre is particularly good at this. She sends me reams and reams of words every day which she writes on her morning commute.

Perhaps this goes a long way to explain why I produce words so painfully slowly. I absolutely cannot write when there are other people in the room, because I have this innate, not-entirely-irrational fear of people reading over my shoulder. I hate having to answer the inevitable question, “What are you writing?” and being forced to talk about my work. The idea of being silently judged for whatever sordid, twisted thing I’m writing at the time I like even less. This rules out writing in public spaces like cafés, parks and train carriages. I can’t even write with my boyfriend in the room when it’s just the two of us chilling out at home — although admittedly this is because he insists on drawing me into conversation about whatever it is he’s doing, despite his best efforts not to.

Believe me, I’ve tried. And this is unlikely to change whilst I’m still an amateur writer without monetary compensation, deadlines to meet, or The Fear grasping on me a daily basis.

So instead, I write at my magnificent corner desk in my study. It has deep red walls (a psychologically stimulating colour) with beautiful gothic decor and many, many books; words beget words. Usually one of my cats is curled up on the sofa behind me, and I’ll have a cup of tea in my ‘Mayor’ mug within reach to see me through my sprints.

This is of course my preference, but if I go away on holiday, provided I have access to a private room with a desk where I can set myself up with a cup of tea and my laptop, I’m good to go. The below for example was my writing setup on a recent trip to Colombia (cat on lap is preferred, but optional):

Colombia writing setup

I have also been known to write directly from my phone into my Evernote in bed before, though this is usually when I can’t get a particular scene out of my head and need to get it down before my brain will permit me to sleep.

As to my preferred medium, it was not that long ago I insisted I could only write with a pen and paper. I would type everything up onto my computer at the end of the session and print off a hard copy to read later. This changed with the introduction of distraction-free word processors and cloud-based storage (see my post here about some of my favourite writing tools). Now, I am perfectly happy to write at my computer. In fact, I prefer it. It’s so much tidier!

Fortunately I’m really not fussy about the time of day I’m writing. I can write first thing in the morning, or late at night. And because I am quite picky about where I write — and therefore don’t write in the spare moments I have throughout the day (harking back to the quote I gave at the beginning of this blog post) — I make sure I set writing time aside in my diary. Learning how to say no to people — especially loved ones — has drastically improved my writing productivity over the last seven months.

S.E. Berrow

* Source: ‘I want to be a writer but…’ ~ Robin Hobb, 13 April 2014


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