Writer About Town

Some time ago, I posted a picture of my writing desk at home. I’ve included an up-to-date one in this entry.

Although I type up pieces here, they normally begin life as pencil on paper and usually far away from the room. This includes not only fiction and poetry, but often blog posts and routine correspondence.

When I was stuck with a piece, I used to head to a café called The Empire State, with a view of the city centre from each of its three levels. The ambient sound was Motown and classic hits, and I found these helped me to break through writing blocks.

I haven’t been there lately, but mainly because I’ve found somewhere else that’s slightly more convenient.

My nearest BrewDog bar opens at midday and is usually quiet enough for writing undisturbed until mid-afternoon. What’s more, there are power sockets for laptops, plus my shareholder card gives me a discount. The only downside is that the music repeats on a 60-minute loop.

I have one more place I like to write, and it’s the most bizarre of all. It’s in a retail park on the edge of the city, surrounded by a DIY retailer, a supermarket and other warehouse-style outlets. It’s a McDonald’s restaurant.

At some point over the last five years, I’ve discovered that it’s most conducive to writing. I know I can turn up there with a notepad and by the time I finish my coffee, I’ll have something on the page, and not just crumbs.

Great as it is for creative work, though, it’s not so good for my weight loss attempts.

 

 

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Points of View

This week, I’ve been so pushed for time that I couldn’t pull together a full entry. Instead, here are a couple of photos.

This first one is my writing area. There are better views from other windows, but it is a great place to stand and observe people and traffic. There is a seat in the room, but it’s not in front of the PC. I prefer to stand while I write.

The second is my bookshelf. I don’t have a TV here, so this is the focus of my living room. I’ve yet to read most of them, but they’re there for when the occasion arises.

That’s the place, uh-huh uh-huh, I write it.

I know you shouldn’t pay too much attention to those pictures that circulate around Facebook, but I recently saw one that deserves a response:

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It strikes me that the solution is hidden within the problem: why stare at a blank page if that doesn’t help you produce work? Go and lie down in bed, or have a shower, or drive around town. But be sure to have a safe way of recording your ideas as they occur.

The perfect spot for a writer is as individual as his or her work. I recently attended a workshop in a library. One of the organisers asked us to pick a spot in the building where we each felt comfortable, then to complete a writing exercise. Some participants preferred an open area, others preferred a little niche; one person lay on the floor while another nipped upstairs.

For my own part, I found a shelf at chest height and placed my work on top of it. When I’m using my computer at home, I prefer to stand up with my back to my bedroom window; I’ve experimented with other places in the house but they simply don’t have the same vibe.

It’s also timeworn advice to keep a notepad and pen by your bedside table in case a great idea occurs during the night. This has rarely worked for me; I find going for a walk for a walk, especially in the cold, is much more effective.

Consider also the sounds around you. I was writing a play a few years ago that had a rather dark theme, and I found the only music that helped me write this way was Radiohead. Any other time, I listen to the soundtrack from the film The Assassination of Jesse James, written by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

So be sure to experiment with your particular writing place. A lot of people believe that to be a writer you have to sit a mahogany desk for a set time each day in silence and write a certain number of words. That works for some people, but if it doesn’t do anything for you, find a method that does.

Think of it this way: if you weren’t receiving your milk delivery, you wouldn’t complain to the postman. Similarly, if your current actions aren’t helping you to place words on paper, it’s time to take new actions.

Find your niche.

Where and how you write is as individual as the work you ultimately produce. There are many examples of writers who need a particular space, certain items on their desk or a strictly-observed time of day, and there are others who can churn out stories in the back of a taxi. Shortlist gives a few examples. I fall into the back-of-a-taxi category.

When I’m at home, I prefer to stand up while writing, normally using an ironing board to rest my materials. I sit all day in an office and it’s a relief to be on my feet, plus the health benefits have been known for some years. In February, for instance, Tom O’Donnell took a satirical look at the health dangers of sitting down all day.

Minimal modern writing desk
Minimal modern writing desk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, it’s also my least favourite place to write as there are many distractions around the house, such as tidying or loading the washing machine. To that end, I sometimes write in a cafe or a library. Unfortunately, I’m not often able to stand up there, but I find I concentrate better as I only have one desk, and there are no chores needing done.

The background noise is also a consideration, as there’s a fine balance to be sought. When I write in the University of Dundee library, I always choose the Group Study area. I find silence quite conducive to writing, but I’m also on edge because every rustle of paper or drink of water then stands out a mile, whereas a consistent ambience can more readily be tuned out. The opposite is also true. I’ve tried to write in Dundee Contemporary Arts, but the noise is loud then quieter as the audience enters and leaves the cinema, and this is just as distracting.

Of course, such distractions can be overcome with headphones. For the last year or two, I’ve written to the soundtrack from the film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It’s an unwieldy title, but the Nick Cave music helps my writing along no end.

The need for writers to use their personal rituals makes me wonder whether there’s a market for a dedicated studio nearby. I have a few artist friends who rent individual rooms in a converted mill and can work undisturbed at their convenience.

Considering the average size of the studios, I reckon it would be possible to squeeze up to four soundproofed booths in one of them, allowing each writer to stay in his or her own customised bubble. An Internet search shows the nearest dedicated writers’ studio is in Nottingham, with a handful scattered around the US, and that’s a long way to travel from Dundee just to find the ideal environment.

However, if you are in the city of Discovery, Hotchpotch is taking place tonight at The Burgh Coffeehouse on Commercial Street. It’s an open mike night for writers, where you can read your own material or come along to listen. More information about Hotchpotch on the Facebook page.

Stand Up For Yourself.

The BBC News website ran an article yesterday about the health benefits of standing up more. It ties in with a documentary that can be viewed on the iPlayer. For the record, I’ve been standing up most of the evening, so I’m sitting right now. It lists a few people who like or liked working on two feet, including Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Donald Rumsfeld.

I’m a great fan of writing this way, not just for the health benefits, but I find it helps ideas flow a little bit more freely. However, I’m stuck for opportunities to assume this pose. At home, I used to work on a chest-height set of drawers, but I needed the surface for something else. Cafés usually require you to take a seat, as does the library, while in pubs, it’s acceptable to stand and drink at the bar, but whip out a laptop, and I expect you attract strange looks.

I don’t rely on my writing for a living; I have a day job in an office, and I’m again required to sit down. It would be impractical to raise my desk, both physically and because I’d need special permission. But I do have to use the printer a lot, so I’m able to walk a short distance. I’m also recovering from some upper back strain — not caused by working — and being on my feet helps it enormously.

I’m eager to try out the poll function so, to that end, what is your preferred writing position?