Public or Private: Writing & Environment

Many of us have a vision of what a writer should look like.  At least, what they look like while they are working.  Maybe you see a woman in the coffee shop who pounds away on an oldschool, manual typewriter.  Perhaps you envision a man smoking cigarettes, drinking brandy, and clicking away on a computer in a crowded corner of his house surrounded by books and papers.  For some, it could be a cottage overlooking a lake with a sweating glass of sweet tea as a companion (I want that…someday).


Image courtesy of NY Public Library Digital Collections.  (My favorite place to final public use images.) 


Some of these visions are based on real people we have seen become successful. Others are built from what we observe in television and movies, or read about in books.  Ultimately, many of us model our writing environment around these examples.  Just go to the local coffee house to see this in action.

As I have become more serious about my own writing, I’ve been thinking more and more about the space I work in.  What environment best compliments someones ability to be creative and push out words?

Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, offered his opinion:

“The space can be humble (probably should be, as I think I have already suggested), and it really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut.  The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk” (p. 155).

elephant house.jpgOn the flipside, in Marc Shapiro’s book, J.K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter, Rowling is attributed as saying, “Writing and cafés are strongly linked in my brain” (p.77).  This makes sense seeing how her first two Harry Potter books were supposedly written in The Elephant House, a coffee and tea shop in Edinburgh.

From what I’ve found, some people write better while experiencing the world and others write better shut off from it and creating their own.  I feel the takeaway here is the ability to shut, or open, the door.  Whether the door is a heavy physical thing, or a mental one, it’s important to be able to be focus in a way that allows you to create.

In this way, I really do think environment matters  Just take a look at your current projects.  How many words are coming and are you meeting your writing goals?

the-kiss-of-the-museIf your answer is, yes, then you may have just read this whole post for no reason.  But if your answer is, no, have you ever tried changing your environment for a week or two and seeing if those numbers change?  Maybe isolation isn’t your game.  Maybe the muse isn’t interested in co-sharing a room with you.  Sorry.  I doubt it’s personal.  For you public space writers, maybe the muse is too distracted by the hustle and bustle of your surroundings to deal with you.

Whatever your deal is, the end goal should be taking the story marinating in your head and converting it into words on paper.  If something is stopping you from accomplishing this, change it.  If you can’t figure out what “it” is, maybe try a change of scenery and see if this knocks the gears loose.


That’s me!

For me, I have a study, noise cancelling headphones, and a daily writing schedule.  I could drag my butt in front of the computer and type in my pajamas if I wanted to—especially as a stay-at-home dad and freelancer—but I don’t.  I don’t write or work effectively like this.  If I’m approaching the job of writing half-assed, then I write half-assed.  If I eat, change into “outside people” clothes, and hit the keyboard, the words make their way out easier.  My mind knows it’s time to at least act like I’m a pro.

question-markFake it until you make it I guess.  What’s your daily grind looking like these days?  What environment encourages the best results from you?  Do you know any stories or accounts of authors who thrive in bizarre writing environments?  I’d love to hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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25 responses

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I especially liked the section, “About Me”. I was very impressed at all the hats you wore when you were in the Navy. I do have to agree with you about how the environment sets a structure for your body and soul to write. I don’t write Blogs or novels but i do like to write poetry, ( more now since my husband passed away), it is how I can express my feelings. But I just can’t sit and write a poem anywhere. I like writing at home, in my room, at my desk. It seems at more centered there. The poems just write themselves. Keep writing in your Blog, I will read it everyday and pass it on my Facebook account.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading Kim. Your poetry is great and I always love seeing it. I know Mark would love it too. The ability to write poetry must run through your family because I’ve seen lots of great work.

      I also agree with you that inspiration has a way of finding us wherever we might be.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing. I hope you are doing well and your birthday was great. Keep writing!


  2. Excellent thoughts here. My students over the years have taught me that very rarely do two writers thrive in the same environment. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out how one can “bleed” words when their headphones are so incredibly loud (yes, I realize I sound 80 here)! In my own writing, I have found that different settings can promote or deter certain purposes. And I write better in the afternoon sun around 3 p.m. and at night around 10:30 p.m. Always an interesting feat to actually record my thoughts with two little ones and a full-time job in the mix! But the release always rewards the sacrifice.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and leave some thoughts today! I absolutely agree with you on having niche times where my writing (and editing) flows smoothly. I also wonder how some people are able to write creatively when I can hear their earbuds blasting from more than ten feet away. But hey, if it works!

      As a stay-at-home dad with a nine month old baby, I feel you on the challenges of finding time to write. I keep a bizarre sleep schedule to give me time to accomplish all the various tasks I need to. I’m also lucky to have a baby who happily sleeps from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. 🙂 It was a schedule I tried to encourage and eventually he sunk into it. Add the two little naps I get throughout the day, and things get a little easier.

      Thanks again for leaving some thoughts and best of luck to you with your writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. For me, I think it depends on what I’m trying to write. If I find that the amount of emotion in a scene is high, I’m better off writing it in a silent, nominally private spot. However, epic battle scenes I write benefit from taking some time to be outside. I guess it’s just a matter of tweaking things to fit your stories current atmosphere.

    On the sidenote, I also really enjoy writing in open spaces. I think it’s because I’m so used to typing out words in a cramped and crowded room were people turn on the TV without even asking for your permission…

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a really interesting concept I hadn’t really considered. What you are saying makes a lot of sense. I believe I read that J.K. Rowling developed much of the physical descriptions for her books from the view she could see from outside of the window she wrote at.

      I’m a bit envious of you being able to write outside. One of these days, when baby Thor is perhaps in school, I will start venturing out into the world again. Until then, I’m a bit of hermit.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for stopping in today 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you on the music. I’m a bit wish-washy with it though. Sometimes the music really helps me and other times, even it’s just ambiance music, I can’t seem to focus.

      Thanks for sharing! Hope your current projects are going well.


  4. How I long for my writing den back, aka The Third Bedroom. With a magical door I could lock…lost that to DD2. Now my writing desk is in the middle of the living room. *sigh*


    • I also lost my study to my little one! I’ve managed to convert our dining room, which is it’s own little room, into my work space. However, it has no doors and is open to both the kitchen and the entryway of our house. It’s not bad when everyone is asleep and I’m pounding away on the keyboard, but when everyone is up and about, it’s chaotic.

      Thanks for sharing this snippet of your life with us and for reading. Best of luck to both of us…


  5. I don’t have an ideal writing environment. I write solo,with my bedroom door closed. I write with my writing buddies sometimes virtually,s in cafes or shared hotel rooms. I write on the train, at the kitchen table, or in a comfy living room chair as the TV plays.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And I hit send too soon. I should learn not to type responses on my phone. Anyway, I can work in any environment. But I seem to be most productive in the evenings of late. (Probably because of my day job schedule.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m jealous of your adaptability. Ideas will strike me wherever I am, and I’m quick to jot them down, but I’m too scatterbrained to be able to focus in all of those environments.

        I wasn’t always like this. When I was on a ship in the middle of the ocean with people talking and causing shenanigans all around me, I could still pound out my articles and what not. But as I got older I seemed to lose this ability to focus. I noticed it later in college being unable to accomplish anything with people around me. I would find the deepest darkest corner of the campus library to hide in and write.

        Maybe I’ll continue to evolve and become a master of all environments like you. I can only hope! Thanks for taking the time to read and share, Jenn 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Honestly, you’re probably just a good person who doesn’t ignore people. Unlike me.:P Also, I think anyone with a kid ends up paying more attention to their immediate environment, wether the child is present or not. That seems to be part of parent training.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sure reports of you not being a good person are largely exaggerated 😉 You are likely right about parenting and observing environments being linked. Pair that with police work and built in military veteran paranoia, and it’s a wonder I ever leave the house at all. If it wasn’t for my wife and the baby, I would be the creepy guy with binoculars looking at people through the window and yelling at kids to, “Get off my lawn!”

        Liked by 1 person

  6. A few months ago, I moved my writing desk to another part of the room, and that small change has made a huge difference. Before, I was always sitting with my back to the entire room (AND the front door), and anyone either entering the room or walking through it would walk right behind me, so I couldn’t write unless I had the house to myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny, because I did the exact opposite. I had two windows behind me and the front door and entryway to the house in front of me. Between the sun shining on the computer screen, and me wanting to look out the windows, I flipped the desk and put it against the wall. This works for me, but I don’t have a lot of people coming in and out of the house. I’m sure I’ll get the itch to rearrange things again in the future. There’s no pleasing me it seems…

      Thanks for stopping in and best of luck to you with your projects.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I like chaos and noise when I write. It’s kind of like I can hone in on what I am doing and let the craziness around me become white noise. When I worked at Starbucks, I would spend a lot of break time in the corner typing out short stories on my phones notes app and listening to headphones while the hum of caffeinated patrons scurried past me. The music was always an album I’ve listened to a thousand times so that I am not trying to focus on new lyrics. Loved the post and the contrast between King and Rowling!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s wild. You are a master of chaos! When I taught small team tactics and room clearing to my fellow combat cameramen/women we would say that there was profit in chaos. The more noise, confusion, and chaos you could create – the more the enemy would be confused and the more you could profit. The idea was if you can keep a cool head when the world turns to madness – you profit. As a dad-warrior, you have mastered this skill, and for this, I dip my helmet to you good sir.

      Liked by 1 person

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