The latest post from Justin Bengry on History Compass Exchanges has got me thinking about my ideal writing environment. Justin prefers writing in his apartment to the office and frankly I agree with him that writing under a fluorescent light is very uninspiring.
My ideal writing environment is our queen size bed. I have found that it is the perfect place to spread my folders, books and articles and sit all day writing on my laptop. Yes I do have a desk, two actually, but I have always preferred to work on the floor, on a bed or a couch. There is nothing like being in a sea of articles and books, with the my legs up, back slightly reclined against a pillow or cushiony sofa in a sunny room. This enables me to get me into that relaxed but focussed zone where words and ideas swish around ready to be caught and strung together.
While writing is something that is a solitary process, for many of us it is a solitary process that has to be conducted in a place we share with others. The bed may be the ideal setup for me, but it is not so ideal for Hubble – my other half. Over the last few months he has found that he cannot go to bed earlier than 10:30pm, sometimes later. At least I don’t use the bed for all-night writing efforts. I have also been patient if Hubble decides to sleep longer in the mornings. Hubble’s body clock is not always synchronised with my writing schedule, but over the months we have been able to work a satisfactory solution. And most importantly Hubble has been wonderfully patient with my rather odd writing habits.
In our previous house it was the couch in the family room that was my preferred writing environment. There was a good amount of floor space next to it and a convenient small table to help me impose some layered order to my references. There was also a good amount of grumbling from my family because I left my stuff there for weeks at a time while working on something. I have reformed and now pack away all my material each night.
Well… maybe ‘reformed’ is the wrong word – ‘forced’ is more like it. If we want any sleep I have to pack the stuff away!
So what are the elements that are important to me in the place where I write? I have realised that it is space, light, preferably natural light, and room to put my legs up. Physical relaxation is essential. From reading Justin’s article I think he has the same requirements minus the need to have the legs up. I wonder if this is the same for other writers?
There are different stages of writing and they have different requirements. I have been describing the environment I need for the creative stage. Next comes the moulding stage. Sometimes the first drafts have such significant structural problems that I need to cut up the entire draft, sticky tape each paragraph onto a separate piece of scrap paper and sort it into piles according to my new structure. Once again a big bed or large floor area is essential. But mostly I find that the moulding stage is best done on Hubble’s computer which has four monitors (he’s in IT so we have great equipment). This makes the cutting and pasting easier. Hopefully the moulding stage coincides with his time at the office, otherwise there is a bit of jostling for his computer.
Each stage of writing history requires a different mentality. The creative stage is artistic and that is why the environment is critical. I find the moulding stage draws more on logical thought processes. Sitting at a desk suits this type of thinking more. This is also reflected in which hand I use to write with. I am ambidextrous and generally find that writing with my left hand is what I need to unleash the artistic and deep thought in the creative stage whereas correcting and ordering my writing is definitely right handed work.
I have only described my writing environment in visual and kinesthetic terms. What about sound? I have had irritation all year because gardeners turn up unannounced once a fortnight or so to spend four hours trimming hedges around our place with very noisy hedge trimmers. Hearing RRRRRRRRRRRRRRR at loud volume for even thirty minutes gets to me and I end up leaving the house and losing that writing time.
Our CD player died during the year and I didn’t get around to using the DVD player to play music. Years ago I found Nora Jones was conducive to good writing. Early this year I enjoyed playing Cold Chisel up loud, but generally I have written in silence. Looking back I think if I had used music more while I worked I think I might have been more productive. One of the prominent historians at the University of Sydney writes with heavy metal blaring through his headphones.
Having access to the right type of space in which to work is critical for writers. It doesn’t need to be anything expensive or fancy, but it does need to be right. What is your ideal writing environment?