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Writing Non-Fiction
because I say so
Thursday, 25 April 2013
Home Sweet Home

When I speak at book events - and I do, so if you're looking for someone for your book club or writing group, I'm your guy - I'm often asked about what my writing process looks like. I wish that there was some sort of cohesive - hell, even coherent - response. I've heard many different writers talk about many different creative processes; I can't say that I really have any kind of process that consistently could be called a process.

One of the things I find interesting when I talk to other writers is where and under what conditions they write.

Of course, different writers have different needs - or at least perceived needs - for physical space and environment in order to be productive. My preference, at least most of the time, are for quiet, near absolute silence while I'm actually writing, at least when I'm trying to write the novel. Part of my process - some might say 'psychosis' - is a desire for order, cleanliness and lack of clutter before I feel like I can be productive. My work space has a mostly empty desk with only my laptop in front of me. Generally, there are no papers, notebooks, superfluous detritus to get in my psychological way. Call it literary OCD, or an advanced form of procrastination, but clutter causes me anxiety that gets in my way when I'm in creative mode. This is a condition that seems to be progressing with age.

The exception, interestingly, is when I'm writing this column. Often I find I'm writing this in Tim Horton's coffee shop while my daughter is in gymnastics class. Clearly this isn't the silent environment of the home office and believe, my desire for snobbery wants to shun it for the nearest Starbucks or Blenz but its proximity to the gym and the brevity of the class make it the only option besides sitting at a plastic picnic table in the parent viewing area. My lower back has difficulty with those conditions. This is also a condition that seems to be progressing with age.

Some office workspaces, home or otherwise, make me shudder at the very sight of them. Writers - and accountants, paradoxically - working in what I can only term disastrous workspaces claim there is a method to their madness. Ask them for an artifact or document and they can produce it from the mounds of stuff surrounding them. They just choose not to. This, I sense, is simply the work of a writer too busy or too lazy to create order from their chaos.

I suspect many writers employ some form of home office. Much has been written and shared about the writing spaces of famous authors and other artists. Many share pretty common characteristics, including a warmth and hominess necessary for a place in which they spend such an abundance of time.

Writing in public locations is an increasingly common phenomenon. My friend and fellow scribe Laura Zera has a regular coffee house in which she conducts her creative business. Just try to walk into any Starbucks and not find laptops, iPads and yes, even paper laid out over tables while goodness knows what opus is being created. I generally assume anyone under twenty-one is either doing homework or simply surfing the web, partially because I don't like the thought of that much competition and also because my biases tells me no one that young could possibly have enough life experience to write anything with much meaning.

For certain kinds of writing - and maybe limited to when I'm in certain kinds of moods - I think I could enjoy coffee house writing. It is a careful balance required of background music and noise: too quiet and the public space seems redundant; I may as well write at home. Too loud and it's distracting. And dear God let there be a law passed that only classical or gentle jazz be played (fusion? are you kidding me? I'm trying to write here!). Of course, finding writing time is always a struggle for me; adding travel time to and from the coffee house is just heaping stress upon stress.

Some writers find home writing spaces to be unproductive and to some extent I can relate. Home can provide a host of distractions. Cleaning, vacuuming, cleaning, laundry, cooking, cleaning, doing dishes, re-painting and cleaning can all get in the way of literary output.

Hmmm...this OCD may be getting more serious.

For many, having a writing space that is separate from home is very important. The challenge is making enough of a living from the writing work to warrant the expenditure on office space. I do know a couple of writers who rent an office away from home and keep pretty consistent office hours; they may not conduct business in the regular sense but their process involves leaving the house each day and commuting to a place of work - even if their work hours are in the middle of the night.

I've also known writers who only sometimes feel the need to leave the home space, if for no other reason that the distractions at home are in the short term slowing them down. 'Co-office' spaces seem like a decent compromise here. Living in the suburbs, however, the nearest co-office spaces are a good hour away; seems like the local library could provide me with a temporary workspace with a whole lot less commute. Cheaper, too.

Ideally, I'd love to have that something in between: the small shack at the back of the property, which presumes I have property large enough on which to have alternate buildings. Or the cottage by the lake to which I could escape for a couple of days when hitting a narrative wall that needs some serious scaling. Having it internet-free would probably be an important element to include in such a real estate acquisition.

Still, given the writer's block I've been suffering of late, changing up the writing environment at least periodically may be a good idea. It's possible my painstakingly tidy office is doing ominous things to my psyche. Feel free to buy me a latte should you see my iPad-illuminated face in the corner of your nearest coffee haunt.

Sidebar: last week I set a goal of completing the scene on which I was currently working. I finished it early Tuesday morning.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Thursday, 25 April 2013 9:53 AM PDT
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