Where I Write
January 8th, 2013
Last week, I told you about where I get my ideas for garden columns – and how I doubt that I’ll ever run out of them.
That got me to thinking about another related question I sometimes get: Where do I do my writing? This one might be helpful to others, so I’ll share some of my anti-writers-block findings.
Where you write makes a big difference. It not only affects concentration and how often your train of thought gets interrupted, but the setting affects your whole frame of mind.
The absolute worst place for me to write was where I spent most of my time doing it – in a newspaper newsroom.
There’s noise and people everywhere. I found it really hard to concentrate when the next reporter over was doing a phone interview or a group of staffers was cackling up a storm by the water cooler.
We didn’t even have cubicles back then. It was all open. And when somebody’s phone rang and he/she wasn’t there, you were supposed to drop everything and answer it.
I became a lot more efficient when I left the paper full-time and started writing in my home office, better known as “the dungeon.”
It’s basically a finished corner of my basement, but it’s quiet, it’s isolated, and the only phone I have to answer is mine.
My second-best writing place is on the living-room sofa with a laptop. It’s more comfortable and usually low on the distraction scale, except when my wife is home and on the phone or watching TV. That’s when I crawl back into my basement hole.
In nice weather, I’ve tried going outside to the patio table or a garden bench to write. That sounds better than it turns out to be for a variety of reasons:
1.) Sudden breezes come along and blow my notes away.
2.) The sun keeps going in and out, messing up the light on the laptop screen, which is already hard to see from glare (despite the $50 I invested in a supposed anti-glare screen).
3.) We really don’t have that many really “nice” days. It’s always too hot, too humid, too cold, too windy, too wet or too buggy.
When the words don’t flow, I’ve found that writing works best for me the old-fashioned way — pen on paper.
I realized that early in my career (back in pre-laptop days) when I had some complicated news articles to write and was getting nowhere fast in the noisy newsroom.
I’d pack up my notes, grab a legal pad and head over to the State Law Library. There, in the quiet of that book-surrounded old place, I could usually compose articles as fast as my hands could get the words on paper. Maybe all the words in the surrounding books encouraged the words to pop out of my head…
Since fast typing is a must in the news biz, transferring the articles into the computer back at the office was no big deal.
To this day, I hand-write some of my columns… usually at park benches, public libraries, restaurant tables and other quiet sitting spots.
I’ll write at those benches or tables between my Garden House-Calls visits, on the way home from an out-of-town conference or when I get anywhere I’m going early. I don’t waste very much time.
I’ve also written columns in the car (when my wife’s driving), while sitting on a beach and once on a cruise ship while heading home from a Jersey-to-the-Caribbean vacation.
One winter it occurred to me that since I now had a cell phone and a laptop that could connect to the Internet at most any hotel, I didn’t have to stay locked to my dungeon desk when I mainly had a lot of writing to do.
So for three weeks a few years ago, my wife and I drove South to Savannah, Ga., and spent three weeks working our way back up through Hilton Head, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, the Outer Banks and Williamsburg.
We saw stuff every day, and every evening I’d work a few hours on writing and posting to Pennlive.com and my web site. I actually got a lot done. And probably no one knew I wasn’t around.
Another good strategy I’ve found for breaking through writer’s blocks and plotting out an article’s composition is taking a walk. With less noise bouncing around my brain, it’s usually a lot easier getting the words to flow.
I take along my Iphone and use the voice memo app to dictate thoughts and sentences. Otherwise, I’d no doubt forget most everything I thought of during the walk.
And one last strategy that works for me… letting my mind work on the dormant setting.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just walked away from an article that wasn’t working, figuring I’d pick it back up later.
Often times, I’ll wake up the next day and find the whole thing just flows. Or I might even wake up in the middle of the night and find a solution in my head to a section that was giving me fits.
That’s why I keep a notepad next to my bed. If I don’t jot down things when I think of them, they’re gone forever.