by J.D. Rhoades
Stephen King wrote in his book “On Writing” that the most
valuable thing you can have as an author is a door you can close—and the will to close
it. "Most of us do our best," he writes, "in a place of our own."
Me, I’m a bit different. (I knew you’d be surprised). I don’t have an office in my house. We do have
the main desktop computer (the one my son named “Bob”) in a large alcove near the
front door. It’s next to a nice big bay window, but that’s the computer the family
shares and its close enough to the
kitchen and living room that I can hear conversations and the TV. But that’s okay, because as it turns out, most
of my writing is done on my trusty laptop, anyway. So I can most often be
found in the bedroom, propped up on the bed with the laptop on my knees. Or if
the weather’s nice, I take it out on the back deck. As I mentioned in a post a while ago, I’ve
also written in vacation house bedrooms during the heat of the day. If the
house is just too noisy, there’s always my law office, but I usually only write
there if I start at the end of the workday.
Often, a chapter or a column or a blog post will start at the office, get e-mailed to Bob the Computer, finished there, then maybe dropped back onto the laptop through the home wireless network and polished out on the deck while Nick uses Bob to play The Sims.
I’ve mentioned this to some other writers, and they’re
horrified. How, they ask, can you write without a room of your own? Actually,
I’ve said a couple of times, I do have a room of my own. It’s between my ears.
It helps that I usually have music playing, either through the computer itself
(I hear some of the damnedest things on Shoutcast web radio) or through my MP3 player. This also
horrifies a lot of writers I’ve mentioned it to, who claim they need quiet to
write. But I have two rowdy teenagers in the house. Absolute quiet is not an
option, even on the back room.
But not everyone requires an office with a closed door. William Kent Krueger says he composes in a cheap notebook at
his local coffee shop. J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in a cafe. (John Scalzi, on the other hand, tells us in the title
of his book on writing that You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop
to a Coffee Shop). Don Winslow reportedly writes in a tent pitched in a grove
of trees on his property (Either he does the first draft in longhand or he has
one hell of an extension cord). Scott Turow wrote Presumed Innocent on the commuter train as he rode into work at his Chicago law firm. Harlan Ellison used to stage events where he’d
bang out a short story in an afternoon while displayed in a bookstore window.
So….where’s the strangest place you’ve done it (writing, I
Much of The Devil’s Pitchfork was written in longhand on yellow legal pads in the cafeteria during my lunches when I worked at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.’
Now I’m a fulltime writer with my own office in my house, but I sometimes use a laptop in other parts of the house.
I tend to go where the action in my novel is – have written on the bar of a loud, dark beer joint, on a lined pad by the light of my laptop.
Have hiked miles up a mountain to get past the point most hikers went, so I could sit on a rock and write in total solitude.
My favorite – I took a writing retreat to a little mountain town a few years back, and as soon as I got to the extremely winding road that led to the cabin I was headed for, the story started gushing forth. I put my pad and pen on the seat beside me and pulled over in every pull-out I came to so I could get a few paragraphs on the page before driving further. I had the windows down and the river that followed the road was rushing beside me each time I stopped. I suspect if I lived anywhere near that place that would be my writing routine.
I do have a room of my own at home but I also hit the road with the laptop and pad at least once per season.
I write on a stair landing in my Victorian house, where I can keep my eye on everything–the rest of the house, the cats, the activity on the street (I may not have a door, but I have to have a window). I write at my father’s desk, which predates computers by half a century, but it still works with my laptop. I write surrounded by books and stacks of paper–important research notes I hope I’ll be able to find again, but which I often don’t.
The strangest place? Taking notes at a local town meeting, which did end up in a book.
I’ve written while Carl drove and we moved our oldest son to Colorado. Had a laptop, a 12v converter for when the battery ran down and a whole lot of absolutely nothing to look at going through Texas and Oklahoma.
I confess…I tuned out the pastor one Sunday and made notes on the church bulletin. It wasn’t a full-fledged chapter or anything. Just a day-by-day outline for what was happening in the book.
Usually though, it’s my laptop,in the living room at two in the morning (sounds like Clue, doesn’t it?)
I have a home office, and a computer of my own, but I confess that I often find myself writing pieces of things with notebook and fountain pen for later retyping. There’s something about paper and a nice pen that slows my brain down just enough to yield a richer texture of writing.
As for places I’ve written, the most common are the sofa in my living room (with a lap desk), my favorite coffee shop down the block, and in a chair in my back yard, looking out at the vegetable garden. But I’ve also written in the back of an RV, in the middle of torah study at my temple, and in a fancy restaurant.
And, I’ve jotted notes down (I always carry a few index cards for the purpose) in the grocery store, among other places.
Like you JD, I don’t have my own office (yet.) I have five kids and they share the family computer. My husband’s computer is in the bedroom, and I have my laptop. By the time everyone is asleep, I’m too tired to write–and I’m one of those people that can’t be interrupted when I’m in the zone. Noise doesn’t bother me–in fact, I write better with noise–but “Mommy!” or “Allison!” completely throws me off.
So my laptop goes with me everywhere (he doesn’t have a name, and I need a new one because this guy isn’t running at peak performance.)
I’ve written in every hotel room I’ve stayed in. The most productive was at the RT conference in Daytona Beach, FL. I write daily at Starbucks. I often write at the local brewery. I write at restaurants. I’ve written at the gym–they offer two hours free day care, so I’ll workout on the treadmill for 30 minutes, then write outside under the awning. I don’t know if I anyplace I’ve written is particularly strange.
Next year I’m moving and I’ll have my own office. I’m really hoping I can write in it.
I’ve got an office, Dusty, but it’s such a mess, it’s difficult to spend time in. (Can you guess what I’ll be trying to do before New Year’s eve?)
I do write in my car while waiting to pick up kids from school. I’ll write at the Do Jang, too; though it’s not easy there because of all the unpredictable noise.
I do great work in my step aerobics class.
As a matter of fact, I had a really productive session in there just this morning.
Dang, I’m going to sound like a bore. I write in my office overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. No noise, but the hum of a fan or a heater is okay.
I take notes everywhere but they’re usually illegible by the time I retrieve them.
I can’t even work in hotel rooms or other rooms here at the house.
Geez, I sound like an old fart.
Louise, you have a view of the GG? I am so jealous! If I had an office with such a view, I probably wouldn’t be able to write anyplace else, either. Then there is always the chance of staring out the window for hours . . .
I have 2 places, my bedroom office and my office at work. But when deadlines are tight, i’ve written airports and hotels. I find airport lounges very productive–I don’t know why.
I’m with Louise, I write in my house. Every once in a while I’ll hit a Starbucks. But I got into this so I could work from home, so it seems pointless to leave home to work.
But I’ll write wherever. I got over the “need” to have a perfect setup a while back. I do have a great office, and a great chair. I’m boring.
Besides an 80-year-old cabin with a weasel living under the porch, I’ve written:
– in a car, bus, plane- in an ancient travel trailer, with a solar panel powering the laptop- on a houseboat, drunk as a newt, writing on a yellow legal pad (I kept the scene I wrote)- but the strangest of the strange was typing with my thumbs on my cellphone while suntanning on a clothing-optional beach in Jamaica. Woot!