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.
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.”