Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Where to Write - An Experiment

by Janis Patterson

I’m lucky. I have an office. Well, that’s a bit grandiose. I have a tiny desk against one wall in our very small guest room. There’s also a very good sort-of ergonomic chair with good back support, a printer stand, a ceiling fan and a radio/CD player. Of course, there’s also a double bed, dresser, chest of drawers and all the other regular guest room paraphernalia. Yes, it’s crowded, but it is mine, and there are two doors I can close against the intrusions of the outside world. It’s also a great big step up from my days of using the dining room table.
Lately, though, I’ve been hearing a lot about going ‘someplace else’ to write. Some swear by trendy coffee shops, others cafes, others parks… just about anyplace that isn’t their home or office. I can see this, if your home or office is noisy, interruptive, non-existent or in some other way unconducive to the business of writing. Being of an experimentive nature, though, I decided to test it – several times, in fact, with a good friend who also writes.
Hmmm. It wasn’t altogether a success. Out in the world, a world full of distractions, I wasn’t able to concentrate as well and found myself missing points I had intended to use in the scenes I wrote. Neither was it pleasant working on what I call my purse computer, a small netbook purchased mainly for travel or for inescapable waiting times such as at the garage or doctor’s office.
I also felt something like a zoo exhibit. One of the places we went to write – a favorite restaurant owned by a long-time friend – was very gracious about having us there. There was a nice-sized corner table, an attentive staff who kept refilling our iced tea, and nice air-conditioning. There was also constant music, much louder than I prefer and not to my working taste. (This was salsa, which normally I like, but I prefer to write to classical, if to any music at all.) Our host had teased about putting out a sign saying ‘Please Do Not Feed The Writers’ but he didn’t, probably since I had threatened him with his life if he did.
Still, I feel something had leaked out, for many patrons took the long way around to the rest room, all passing close to our table and staring as they did so. The recurring movement and attention was most distracting. 
On a more concrete level, a table meant for eating is a different height from a desk, giving your arms and wrists a different and ultimately very tiring angle. I learned that lesson in the years I had to use the dining room table, and it was one of the reasons I bought a real desk. And a separate ergonomic keyboard, as the tiny straight keyboard on my writing laptop (to say nothing of the netbook!) are much too small for comfort.
The true deal-breaker, though, was the chair. Restaurant and coffee shop chairs are not made for real comfort in the long term. My back, injured long ago and held together pretty much with spit and baling wire, loves being pampered by my ergonomic chair with the adjustable back support. It does not like hours spent working in a commercial dining chair and was very definite in letting me know its displeasure. Or maybe I’m just a wuss, but no place I went to write was very comfortable – all of which showed in my work, I’m sure. 
I don’t know how my friend’s output was, save that she was satisfied with it, but I wasn’t impressed by mine at all. I produced less than half of what I would have in the same time in my office, and the chapters I wrote while away needed much more revision than any produced at home.
Was it a waste of time? No, not completely. I enjoyed lunching with my friend, as I always do, and the afternoons spent writing ‘away’ were pleasurable, but if anything they proved that – for me, at least – they are ‘hobby’ and not professional sessions. In the future if I want to meet a friend for lunch, I will, and I will eat and drink and enjoy it. If I want to work, I will go in to my office and work. A social occasion is a social occasion and work is work.
I realize that my situation is optimum – a home office, however cramped, with all the tools I need to follow my profession. Not everyone has these luxuries, and I applaud those who strive on and write whatever situation they face. When one does have an office, though, it seems counterproductive to go write ‘away.’ Again, I speak only for myself. Everyone has to find their own path for writing. Mine is in my office with my back-pampering chair and my ergonomic keyboard, both doors closed and soft classical music playing. The most important thing for every writer, however, is producing the words. However, wherever – whatever works best. 


Susan Oleksiw said...

I'm with you one hundred percent, Janis. I know I wouldn't write anything worth keeping in a coffee shop or restaurant or, perhaps, even in a library--I'd be too distracted by the other people, and the noise would kill my concentration. I'm fortunate to have a room just for writing, with books and a reading chair if I get tired at my desk. I began my writing career writing in front of the television, then at a dorm room desk and in the student lounge, and later the dining table and a tiny desk in my bedroom. I know how lucky I am now to have a real "room of one's own" and have no desire to experiment in a coffee shop or restaurant. For those who can write in a public place, my congratulations and admiration, but it's definitely not for me.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Having moved to the house I grew up in, I had planned to do whatever writing from my Dad's old office out in the garage. He did a lot of work out there finishing things in and there are bookcases, an old desk, plenty of light, etc. It could work....if I was not so claustrophobic. With no windows I can’t stand being out there more than a few minutes.

So, instead, I am set up in the living room which has two large windows and a view of the street. That includes my neighbor, a handyman contractor, who has several helpers. Sometimes a vehicle is parked directly across the street in such a way that the reflected light off of a window—instead of being shot up into space to contact the ISS by way of laser beam and quite possibly blast it out of orbit—is instead aimed right at the left side of my head. The drapes are soon closed.

The Lochwood Branch of the Dallas Public Library would probably work most days if I was writing. I have thought about packing up and going over there and trying to jumpstart things. But, we have several characters that are frequent visitors to the place and I think I would get too distracted people watching.

I used to try and work at UTD while Scott was in class. That became problematic after awhile because the young folks figured out I was doing other things than class stuff and would want to find out what the old guy was doing. Distracting. So too were the gamers who would take over five tables, push them all together while whipping out computers, and proceed to whoop and holler, as they battled within the Student Union. And a record student enrollment also meant that everything in the library was taken as well just about every table anywhere quiet across the campus. Not to mention the fact that I am falling a bit more often these days and that is not recommended—especially with electronic equipment.

At least with the guest bedroom you can always get up, take a couple of steps, and flop on the bed. ;)

Earl Staggs said...

Our house used to have a two-car garage, but the previous owners turned half of it into a bedroom. That room is now my office. It's air conditioned, carpeted, comfortable, and not far from the kitchen and a bathroom. I consider myself lucky to have a fine writing place. I could never write productively in a restaurant, coffee shop, or even a library. I'm too easily distracted by music, any other sound, or other members of the human race. Call me a hermit writer.

the house

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I have my home office set up in a corner of the main bedroom which is a good size. I like working from home where I minimize distractions.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I probably should try a local strip club. That way I would already have the noir setting in place before writing a word.

Susan said...

Kevin, you never fail to make me laugh. You are the only person I've ever heard of who would even think about writing in a strip club! Let us know if you ever decide to do that experiment!

Now - have you thought about having a window put in your garage office? Sounds like that might make it perfect. (And I can't stand working for long in a place that has no windows, either!)

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Thought about it, but the bigger issue for that area is the fact it needs AC.

Susan said...

Oh, Kevin! AC above windows any day of the week! You can always put up a poster of a window with a view - and change the view to suit your mood - but putting up a poster of an iceberg won't make you any cooler at all! We have one of those little roll-around ac units about the size of a suitcase for The Husband's office and it works a treat!

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Yes, I thave thought about one of thsoe rool around deals, but it has to vent out somewhere. I am kind of concerned about putting a hole through the wall to the outside as it is.

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Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I have an office that is kind of a catchall for stuff we're not sure what to do with. I have lots of visitors while I'm working--mostly little ones that want to see what Grandma is doing. Love it and them. When I'm really going great with my writing, I and take time out easily and return right back to where I was.