As a new writer, I sat at my designated writing desk and did what anyone trying to learn something for the first time does in the modern age; I googled it. Answers packed in the search results. Articles, varying in length, offered repeated advice from amateurs and professionals alike, and like all good stories, a conflict occurred.
I’m writing this at my designated writing desk. It has an A5 world map in which my laptop sits when I’m working, postcards from places I’m travelled and other little things I’ve found interesting along my way including the full Harry Potter series. On the wall behind my desk, the calendar reads October 2015. It’s not that this is a particularly moving image or even the most beautiful picture this calendar offers, but the page it was on the last time I kept track of the months. It was my first, and only calendar to date.
The minute I walk into this room of my own, I swear I become a different person. The wife, the mother, the granny, the cook, the cleaner – all vanish. For two or three hours only the writer is left.”
– Margaret Forster, ‘Writer’s rooms: Margaret Forster’, The Guardian
I labelled it my personal writing space, but I spend most of my time here watching YouTube videos about history or writing. Sometimes I’ll curl up on the bed behind me and read, but even that doesn’t feel very comfortable in this room. I’m a creature of habit. I prefer to read on my sofa with a coffee, and I love to write standing at my kitchen counter with my music blaring. (Sometimes, my speakers bounce.)
The Evils of Habits
At first, it comes across as preference, but there are underlying elements of my personality at work here. They affect every aspect of my life. Sometimes for the better, sometimes with a small cost overshadowing the benefits. The simplest way to explain my thinking is to show my route to work every day.
I’ve broken my route into the two stages: my journey to the tube station and my journey from the final station to work. Both trips have two options available to me, and similarities that my brain has registered, illogically, as different.
- I can take a ten-minute bus to the tube station or a thirty-minute walk to the first station.
- I can take two tube lines, the second line is persistent and takes on average eight minutes, or I can exit the tube station at the end of line one and walk approximately thirty minutes.
I’ve never considered walking to the first station. The easiest route has always been to take the bus, although somedays when I’ve waited twenty to thirty minutes. I’ve grown up taking the bus and developed a habit.
I used to take two tube lines during the second phase, but I had some spare time one day and decided to walk. I hate being underground. The freedom of getting off the tube sooner appealed to me, and it soon evolved into a different habit. It meant leaving earlier, but I developed a healthier way of life. When I was running late, or too tired to walk, the thought of taking the shorter second lined filled me with dread.
This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: THE HABIT LOOP.”
Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg details this phenomenon. He explains the significance of habit in humans and why, my long journey to work, although strange to friends and colleagues, seems perfectly reasonable to me. I’d created a routine. Which brings me back to the question.
Where should you write?
A lot of writers profess to have writing rooms and spaces in which they do all of their writing. The list of the benefits and most first-time writers are eager to soak up the knowledge of seasoned professionals.
For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
The problem with writing spaces is what do we do when these rooms are temporarily unavailable. For example, you may share a bedroom with someone else, and they may be asleep at the time you feel inspired. Or your writing room might be in the Lake District and you’re temporarily on a train from Paris to Antwerp. Maybe you’re redecorating, or you suffered a burst pipe that rendered your entire flat uninhabitable. What then? Do you stop?
Of course not.
You haven’t lost your passion or skill. You still write but in a different environment, and although these new locations feel foreign, they offer unique experiences or new ways of thinking that broaden your scope. For a new writer, the experience is everything.
I believe I write better in my kitchen, and not at my desk, but I also write a lot on my small mobile keypad. My phone doesn’t have the same functionality as my laptop, but if I’ve scribbled sentences somewhere, I can edit them wherever I feel the most comfortable.
My kitchen has no door and my family regularly walk-in, but music drowns out distracting background noise. Some writers swear by silence, but the music is just noise when I’m not listening. I zone out and tap away at a keyboard until I have a page or more. My writing stops when I stop. I don’t have the luxury of having a quiet space to go and write undisturbed, but I built my own writing habits.
And when I’m struggling for ideas, I change the habit. That’s why I wrote this piece. Something disturbed my space and the room where I hadn’t written anything for a year provoked a new thought. You can copy the best, but you’ll never be the same. We’re all different.
My point is, you’re the writer, and only you can decide where you write the best.