Where Are the Best Places to Write? (with thanks to Friesen Press)

I’ve just posted these remarks on my Facebook page as a comment added to a posting by Friesen Press. Thanks to them for  an interesting post which I’ve shared after my comments.

I’ve been writing from age 64 until age 79. Now that I’m 80 and in not-so-good health, I’m mostly writing in my head while waiting for my professional editor, who is also my wife, to get through editing a number of stories we haven’t yet published. I prefer writing at the computer at home in my den but then doing the re-writes (after my wife has given me her editing suggestions) in my zero-gravity chair out on the patio. Lovely! When the weather isn’t so nice, I write while relaxing in my living room recliner. Gayle tells me that I’ve taken to talking in my sleep. Maybe I’m concentrating on something more to write. She wrote down a quip I came up with a few weeks ago in the middle of the night. “I’ve got more to say than what I’ve got words for.” Another of my sage nighttime sayings was, “My drink needs some protection.” Perhaps that was a prediction of things to come. I’m just home from hospital after having six stones removed from the duct of an infected liver. Recovery could take a few months. Doctor says, “No alcohol for awhile.” Perhaps that’s good, because I find alcohol doesn’t help the writing.

Ian Moore-Morrans

Here’s the posting, courtesy of Friesen Press. Interesting reading.

Question: Where Are the Best Places to Write? Its Fall and time to take it outdoors a bit.

If a cork-lined room doesn’t happen to be available, where is the best place to write?

J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Annie Dillard, and several other professional writers offer some advice.

Virginia Woolf famously insisted that in order to write professionally a woman must have “a room of her own.” Yet French author Nathalie Sarraute chose to write in a neighborhood café–same time, same table every morning. “It is a neutral place,” she said, “and no one disturbs me–there is no telephone.” Novelist Margaret Drabble prefers writing in a hotel room, where she can be alone and uninterrupted for days at a time.

Where is the best place for writing? Along with at least a modicum of talent and something to say, writing requires concentration–and that usually demands isolation. In his book On Writing, Stephen King offers some practical advice:

If possible, there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall. For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction.
But in this Twittering age, eliminating distractions can be quite a challenge.
Unlike Marcel Proust, for example, who wrote from midnight to dawn in a cork-lined room, most of us have no choice but to write wherever and whenever we can. And should we be lucky enough to find a little free time and a secluded spot, life still has a habit of interfering.

As Annie Dillard found out while trying to write the second half of her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, even a study carrel in a library may supply distractions–especially if that little room has a window.

On the flat roof just outside the window, sparrows pecked gravel. One of the sparrows lacked a leg; one was missing a foot. If I stood and peered around, I could see a feeder creek run at the edge of a field. In the creek, even from that great distance, I could see muskrats and snapping turtles. If I saw a snapping turtle, I ran downstairs and out of the library to watch it or poke it.
(The Writing Life, Harper & Row, 1989)
To eliminate such pleasant diversions, Dillard finally drew a sketch of the view outside the window and then “shut the blinds one day for good” and taped the sketch onto the blinds. “If I wanted a sense of the world,” she said, “I could look at the stylized outline drawing.” Only then was she able to finish her book.
So where is the best place to write?

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, thinks that Nathalie Sarraute had the right idea:

It’s no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café. You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement and if you have writer’s block, you can get up and walk to the next café while giving your batteries time to recharge and brain time to think. The best writing café is crowded enough to where you blend in, but not too crowded that you have to share a table with someone else.
(interviewed by Heather Riccio in HILLARY Magazine)
Not everyone agrees of course. Thomas Mann preferred writing in a wicker chair by the sea. Corinne Gerson wrote novels under the hair dryer in a beauty shop. William Thackeray, like Drabble, chose to write in hotel rooms. And Jack Kerouac wrote the novel Doctor Sax in a toilet in William Burroughs’ apartment.

My favorite answer to this question was suggested by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith:

It helps greatly in the avoidance of work to be in the company of others who are also waiting for the golden moment. The best place to write is by yourself because writing then becomes an escape from the terrible boredom of your own personality.
(“Writing, Typing, and Economics,” The Atlantic, March 1978)

But the most sensible response may be Ernest Hemingway’s, who said simply, “The best place to write is in your head.”

Editor’s Review of “Beyond the Phantom Battle: Mystery at Loch Ashie” in Goodreads

This posting is being done by Gayle Moore-Morrans, Ian’s wife, editor, publicist, etc. as Ian is hospitalized at present and waiting for an Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiogram and Pancreatogram, better known as an ERCP. Tests have indicated a possible blockage or stones in a liver duct and this ERCP should be able to extract the stones or insert stents to clear the blockage. Yesterday he was in good form, joking and visiting with his roommates and also selling copies of his books to hospital staff and visitors. Today he was not feeling as well and actually fell asleep as I was visiting. At least he’s getting a rest.

Since I’m the one who has developed this blog for Ian and do most of the manual labour to put this on the website, I’ll take the opportunity of his absence to post the review of his novel that I recently entered on Goodreads, a great site for readers. I recommend it to anyone interested in reading and passing along or getting book recommendations. I’ve found it a great way to connect with the world’s largest community of readers.

*****Review of “Beyond the Phantom Battle: Mystery at Loch Ashie” by Ian Moore-Morrans. Posted by Gayle Moore-Morrans on Goodreads.

*****A tale of adventure, time travel, fantasy, historical fiction and romance set in the Scottish Highlands. As I’m married to the author and have edited the book myself, perhaps I’m a bit prejudiced. However, I don’t think you’ll find a better read that will take you from the 21st Century back to the 12th Century when Vikings were invading the Scottish Highlands. The author grew up and lived in Scotland, in some of the area of which he writes. Geography buffs will enjoy his knowledge of the highland area from Inverness south to Argyll. Historical fiction buffs will enjoy his depictions of 12th Century Scots and Vikings. Fantasy buffs will relate to his turning the historical claim by “witnesses” (to have seen a ghostly conflict taking place over the years around the first of May at Loch Ashie near Inverness) into a tale of two brothers from Edinburgh traveling to that lake and attempting to witness the battle for themselves. Adventure enthusiasts will thrill to the battles, intrigues, trials, discoveries and voyages the brothers endure. Fans of the supernatural will relish the character of “Ancient One” or “Aeoh” as the brothers call him – a wizard-like being with both good and evil powers which he uses with gusto. There is also a wee bit of romance as the brothers fall in love with two 12th Century lassies. Mystery buffs will speculate if Aeoh will really succeed in helping them to return to the 21st Century. Readers invariably mention how they enjoyed the surprise ending.


Book Readings in Winnipeg, May 2012

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Gayle and I traveled to our old stomping ground in Winnipeg in May. First we celebrated my 80th Birthday with most of my family – daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren and their spouses and great-grandchildren. I presented hardcover copies of my autobiography to my daughters, Shirley and Audrey, and had a bit of a book reading for the “elder” members of the family. Audrey and Shirley were ages 8 and 10 when they emigrated with their mother, Mary, and me from Scotland to Canada. Since they had “lived” part of the story of “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada,” it was only fitting to dedicate the book to them as well as to my present wife and editor, Gayle.

Then, before Gayle traveled to Norway for over a month to visit her daughter and family and I remained in Winnipeg, we held a book reading at my daughter’s house.  This was a great way to reconnect with old friends that we knew from former Winnipeg days. They seemed to enjoy the readings, especially the tales I’ve entitled “Jig-a-Jig in the Desert” about the ‘invasion’ by Arab prostitutes at the water filtration camp I was supervising during my RAF days in Egypt and “More Than Slightly Sloshed” in which I recount my first encounter with “poteen” or home brew whisky made by my Irish stepfather, Bill Moorhead. The tale concludes with this paragraph: “Somehow, it seemed, my Salvation Army days were really over. To quote my mother, ‘Since ye joined the Royal Air Force, ye’ve gone tae the Devil!'”


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While I was laid up at my daughter’s house in Winnipeg this summer, my wife and editor, Gayle, made a whirlwind book reading tour to North Dakota and Minnesota. She visited her two sisters and did a book reading at each of their homes, to which they invited friends and other family members from the area. A longtime friend of Gayle’s from her days in Heidelberg, Germany in the late 60s, Leah Droubie, also came to the Frazee event all the way from St. Paul, Minnesota. Thanks, Leah, I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you but have heard all about your visit. The slide show includes a photo of Gayle and Leah  displaying the two books which were featured.

If you are wondering how Gayle managed to pull off a book reading and signing without me being present, hears how: I signed a couple boxes of books before she left, leaving space for her to personalize them and also add her name as editor. I really did read from the books, though not “live.” We had recorded several videos of me reading from various parts of “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada” at a previous book reading in Vernon. She also showed a book trailer video that had been made for my novel, “Beyond the Phantom Battle: Mystery at Loch Ashie.” After showing the videos she then answered questions about the books.  Though this was an experiment, Gayle tells me it worked well.

At her sister Barbara’s house the first glitch was that Barb didn’t have wi-fi on her Internet. However, Gayle was able to “borrow” Barb’s neighbour’s wi-fi, bring the U-tube videos up on her iPad and then hook them up to Barb’s television. Slick!

The next day, Gayle was able to use her sister Doreen’s laptop computer to show the videos. Not quite as good as using a large TV, but adequate, as they had a smaller audience. Luckily the sales were similar, as attendees at the latter reading were buying for others who weren’t able to come. Thanks, Gayle for your efforts. I’m glad you were able to see your sisters again, visit with other friends and relatives and also have a nice boat ride on a Minnesota lake.

You’ll notice some amused reactions among a few of the guests. This was in response to the story I’ve named “More Than Slightly Sloshed” from the autobiography. It tells of my first leave home to Campbeltown after I had joined the Royal Air Force and of my first and only encounter with my Irish stepfather’s “poteen” or home-brewed whisky. Janice, we especially love your guffawing and glad Gayle could capture it for the record.