That Environmental Factor

The day job keeps me moving. Tomorrow, for example, I’ll be flying to Connecticut for a few days. The week after, to a smallish town in South Carolina near the currently-high-flying Clemson Tigers. For the last few years, I’ve spent more than a third of the days on the road.

What that means is that I’ve learned to write in a variety of places. Ones with space and character, others without either (airplanes, I’m looking at you). Below I’m ranking the top 10 places, based on my experience, to get some writing done.

10. The Airplane

C’mon, you knew this had to be last, right? Writing on an airplane is often a struggle against the reclining seat in front of you that reduces your lap space to a pair of micrometers. When it’s not that, you have a dearth of outlets and the extremely close proximity of another person to shake your immersion. Turbulence and a general stress about making it to your destination on time are just extra fun.

That’s not to say an airplane can’t be productive, though. I’ll use longhand notebooks that are much smaller than the laptop to jot down story ideas. Occasionally, if I get upgraded (work travel = airline status and benefits), I’ll have the space to crank something useful out. The most underrated part, though, is internet access. It’s getting more common on planes, but still takes effort to connect to. The removal of that distraction gives you a chance at getting things done, at least till that baby starts wailing.

9. The Office

Every once in a while when there’s a gap for lunch I think about getting some writing done. Sometimes that gap is enough to get through a blog post, but anything longer or more intensely creative? Yeah, right. There’s phone calls, endless emails, people knocking on the door, and the harassment of the schedule about that meeting you have coming up. The office, what with the desk and setup, might seem like a great place to get creative, but there’s too many distractions to be productive.

8. The Hotel Room

I’m not really sure why I have such a hard time getting real writing done in hotel rooms. I think it’s something to do with the bland art on the walls. Or that it’s also the place that I’m sleeping, and potentially working out, watching the game, etc. In short, there’s too many potential activities there that it requires a lot of discipline to knock out the word count in the hotel.

7. A Boat

This one is partially dependent on the size, but I’m writing this with regards to a 90-footer that holds a little over 20 passengers. I’m sure a giant cruise ship is going to be calmer. While I found the sea breeze a nice catalyst for ideas, the rolling over waves and staring at a screen combination eventually unsettled the stomach. I’m not prone to seasickness, and this wasn’t severe, but the mild nausea really killed the desire to put words down.

Still, the first thirty minutes were great.

6. The Beach

No motion sickness on the sand, right? Ah, but then you have, you know, sand. The stuff is potentially murderous for computers, so I stick to notebooks for beach writing. But that can be really productive – you have the steady sound of the waves and, again thanks to lack of interwebs and other distractions, the opportunity to let your creative mind loose. Skip the beach reading for a change and try some beach longhand next time. You might be pleased with the results.

Sidenote: Beachfront anything makes a wonderful place to write. Less sand, great view. 

5. The Park

This is a rarer writing destination for me, if only because it takes effort to get all the stuff together and get to a park just to write. However, once I’m there and settled on a blanket or chair or something, the ambient calm of being outdoors helps get the ideas flowing. This makes another ideal spot for the notebook as opposed to the laptop. No chargers in the park, after all, and sunshine can make it hard to see a screen.

4. The Airport

Not the airplane, but the airport itself. Specifically once you’ve reached your target gate or little restaurant and have an hour or two to kill before takeoff. Ideally you’re not too worried at this point because you’re where you need to be, and have little else to do. There’s tons of white noise in the sounds of passing crowds, boarding announcements, and so on. There’s also inspiration everywhere in the form of people-watching – that guy walking by with the big guitar case? That woman with three dogs? That family wearing entirely souvenir-based clothing? All stories you can tell.

3. Home

Geez, only number three for the place where I do, by far, the most writing? I think my house, whether it’s in the office or on the couch, has endless potential. It could be number 1 eventually, but it’s going to take time to get it there.

See, home is full of distractions. Whether it’s other people asking questions, the cats harassing me, the constant backdrop of errands that need running or food that needs cooking, all of those things break the ease of getting into the writing vibe.

I find that writing at home becomes much easier with a routine. That standardish time when you’re going to get the writing down is, when reinforced with consistency, be so important at home because you don’t have that physical distance from everything else going on in your life. Discipline is required here and I’ll admit that I’m not perfect at it. Yet.

2. The Coffee Shop

Raise your hands – most people probably thought this would be number one. And it’s close. Real close. The one thing that stops the coffee shop from anchoring its spot as numero uno is the lack of availability. This is my list, after all, and I just don’t have time to go there on most days. When I’m traveling, I often won’t have a car, or will need to get breakfast and coffee straight from the hotel lounge prior to going to the office.

At home, I have to get to work. Sometimes I’ll get up early and try to get to the coffee shop, but the extra ten-fifteen minutes that takes is just time I lose from writing at home. On off days I’ll definitely hit up the espresso cafe for a shot of the good stuff and let the light music and crowd of other wordsmiths keep me motivated. It’s a treat right now.

1. The Restaurant Bar

When you travel as much as I do, you inevitably spend a lot of nights going out to dinner by yourself. Because I sometimes find it a little awkward to get my own table in the middle of a restaurant’s dining area, I’ll often find the bar spot and snatch a stool or something on a small table. There I’ll avail myself of the nightly special, order quickly off the menu, and stay for a couple of hours pecking away at the keyboard.

For whatever reason, putting myself in this space divorces me of the stress of the day. There’s almost never internet in the places, so I’m able to focus on the words. Often I’ll get asked what I’m doing, or if the server is being particularly attentive, what I’m writing. That alone is often worth the whole visit. People wondering whether you’re a writer they should know about. It’s a confidence booster, but also motivating. I want to be a writer people know. I want to be able to pull up my amazon page or have a book handy to pass along, signed and ready to go.

So there you have it, my ten most frequent spots to scribe in the order in which I prefer them. I’d give each of them a try if I were you, see what strikes you best. You might even find some are better for certain things like new stories, editing, or punching out a word count, than others. So long as you get the words down, though. That’s most important.

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