Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Step Into My Office

Lois Moss had a post yesterday about music and the positive effect it has on her while writing. Making off with that idea of hers, I am thinking about the writing process in general, and what things are necessary in order to get the work done.

Over the years, my minimum requirements for the right surroundings have shrunk to almost nothing: a stable writing surface, good paper, a good pen and nobody speaking to me. For years I wrote in restaurants and a decent (or just any) meal with coffee was a requirement before I could write, but I've written on crowded buses, on lawns, on planes, in cars and just about anywhere where I could be ignored and open my notebook. It doesn't matter if there's music playing, or people talking around me as long as they aren't talking to me, or where I am. Good light is important, though, especially as I get older. There's a great pho restaurant nearby that's just too dimly lit for me to write in, which is a pity because I like their pho and they have big tables.

At home, Mighty Reader and I set aside a room that's part library (though it only holds about a third of our books, if that), part sunroom (the cat spends a lot of time on the chaise lounge by the window), part music room (it's where I keep the guitar and the violins) and part writing room. We set up my writing table, a couple of lamps, my printer on a stand and my laptop there, and allegedly it's where I'll write my books. Certainly that's where I type up my revisions and new work, but I haven't actually written anything there. Time at home, alas, is still mostly given over to working on the house or recuperating from long days at the office. So even though I do most of my writing in restaurants and on the bus these days, I still have a dedicated space in the house set aside for writing, and here's what the view looks like from my chair:

There's a rack of CDs behind my chair that you can't see, and I can hook my laptop up to my small-but-powerful speakers so that, on those days when I actually do use the writing room, I can listen to music. There's no pattern to music played while writing, either. It's pretty much whatever comes on the iTunes shuffle or whatever disk I grab blind from behind me off the CD rack.

So what I'm wondering is: what are your minimum requirements for writing? What things make it impossible for you (for me, it's people talking to me but not much else)? Got a photo of your writing space at home? I don't think you can actually post those in comments, but maybe you could email them to me and I'll add them to this post. That might be cool. We'll see. For now, let's just see under what sort of conditions we've all been laboring.

Additions! Rick Daley and Annie Louden have bravely sent me photos of their writing spaces. Here's Rick's:

And here's Annie's:

This is where Davin Malasarn writes. I assume the green book is Tolstoy:

You'll notice that none of them has a stuffed Gir:

Which is why I rule.


  1. It is so tidy! I dare not post a picture of my desk as it looks right now.

    I do most of my writing on my computer, and the rest on a college-ruled notebook.

    Good light, no music, no kids clamoring for my attention: my requirements. Oh, and a brain that is awake.

  2. Great post topic! I currently don't have a normal place where I write. I like to have one, but I find that it usually takes several weeks for me to find one (usually on accident), and I guess I haven't been in my new place long enough yet. But, usually, I like small little spaces. Just enough room for my laptop and maybe a stack of paper. I like to feel secure, so a vast office would probably be too intimidating for me.

    My minimal requirements: my lap top and a place where I know I won't be startled by unexpected visitors. If I'm having trouble motivating myself to start, then I also need a DVD playing off to the side, usually something quiet like Kiki's Delivery Service or Gosford Park.

    That's a great office, Scott!

  3. I don't have a dedicated writing space per se, especially because the majority of my writing is done during dead time at my office.

    My study/guest room at home is cluttered with boxes of old papers I have to take care of, and I find I can't really write at home because there's always something else that needs to be done.

  4. Minimum? Pen (black ink, no blue, yuck!). Paper. No one in my face. Preferably a good night's sleep.

    That's a great little office, Scott, but I can see how your muse doesn't like it if you've gotten her used to public transportation and crowded cafes. ;)

    Davin, I love those movies too much to have them on while I write. I need the Soundscapes channel on my digital cable. Mostly New Age, hence, WORDLESS. I find words extremely distracting when I write. Ironic.

  5. Your office looks splendid! I have certain requirements - quiet (either drowning out noise with my preferred music, or just absolute silence), and no toddler. If I have those two things I can write anywhere, anytime. I have a hard time writing longhand, but once I get into it, I'm okay at it.

  6. My needs are similar to Scott's, except I write on my laptop, not long-hand. The only item I exclude from my environment is someone speaking to me (or a five-year-old climbing onto my chair, which can be free of sound but full of distraction).

    In the early mornings I write in my home office, and coffee is a necessary tool. In the evenings I move to the couch and I write while my wife reads or while she watches TV, and wine is a welcome addition to the creative process.

    I am fond of writing in airports and on airplanes. The only exception is airplanes where the rows are close together and the person in front of me reclines their seat all the way back (0.05 degrees) so that I have to open my laptop like a "V" and not an "L" and type with my arms held in like a T. Rex. I read on those flights.

  7. Thanks for the nod to my post. I love writing with music. In some ways it blocks out all the distractions in a busy house. I used to write at a small desk in the kitchen, but I got a chair and ottoman for my birthday and they're in the corner of my bedroom. I write there a lot now.

    I can generally write anywhere. I do a lot of it sitting in the car waiting for children. Sometimes in a notebook, but mostly on my laptop.

    It's funny when I write longhand my voice is very different than when I write on the computer. The longhand voice is much more literary. The computer voice is sort of flippant.

    I like your office. All those book shelves! And tons of light.

  8. Like Davin, I don't have a dedicated space. My place to write is my bed because that's where my music is and it's away from the television, my usual distraction. I'd share a picture, but it's not much to look at.

    As for ambience, music. iPod on shuffle and I'm good to go. It didn't used to be like that. I'd have to write in complete silence. I guess grad school cured me of that as music was the only thing that would keep me writing on my papers.

  9. Tere, I think normally words in songs or movies would distract me, but I have a handful of movies that I play over and over and over again, so I can basically tune out the movies and keep them in the background. They provide inspirational atmosphere.

  10. Great topic.

    Oddly enough, one of my essentials for first drafts is sunscreen. I seem to get most of my drafting done in the summer (August is my time), and I like to write outside, so I tend to coat myself in sunscreen before I get to work. Music helps too, for entertaining the part of my brain that likes to get distracted by other things.

  11. It really depends what, where, and how I'm writing. If I'm still in the development process of my writing, I need to actually pen the letters... typing makes the whole process seem too sterile. The first couple pages of anything that I do MUST be hand-written. Once I get on the computer it becomes work. But when I'm writing long-hand I must have a yellow legal pad (a la Pat Conroy)and a black BIC gel pen.

    Once the idea has been sired and I'm ready for some more hardcore writing, I just need my laptop. I can write just about anywhere, and it helps if I write different scenes in various locales. If I'm writing a scene at a bar... I try to write it at a bar. It lends a certain amount of truth to the story.

  12. Look at that beautiful office. Lovely! :-)

    Most often, I write on my netbook on a lap desk in the living room, watching (or ignoring) the TV with my husband and the dogs. I've been known to write on planes, in bars, and wherever else I find myself too - as long as I have my netbook. I really don't write anything but ideas out longhand anymore, my handwriting is atrocious.

    I can write in complete silence (my favorite) or any loud/busy spot, as long as no one is talking directly to me. I don't listen to much music. When the TV is off, I prefer to keep things quiet. But when I'm writing, I pretty much tune out the world around me - I'm in my character's world instead. :-)

  13. UGH, my desk is a MESS. Yours is so...how I want mine to look. :)

    My needed items are my computer or laptop, coffee,(and lots of it)and SILENCE. Then I'm good to go. :)

  14. Me + Laptop = Minimum Requirements for Writing.

    Me + Laptop + Solitude = Minimum Requirements for Writing.

    Me + Laptop + Solitude + Music = Minimum Requirements for Writing.

    I think the most important aspect is solitude - a place where I can write, undisturbed, and immerse myself in my writing.

    Now, since I have two dogs, two cats, and a partner . . . well, I've learned to adapt my writing process to take into account these outside influences that do their very best to disrupt my flow of writing by . . .whining, squeaking (my one cat doesn't meow, she squeaks), meowing in a husky Dorothy Zbornack voice (this would be my other cat), or my partner walking into the room, seeing I'm working, and saying "What are you doing?" : )

    As for my office . . .well, it's anywhere in the house, though I do have a nifty office with great big windows, overflowing bookshelves, and a very cluttered desk that I work in from time to time . . . with the music blaring appropriately loud enough to wake a Zombie or two!


  15. Surprisingly, (or not), I do a lot of my writing at my day job. Shhh don't tell anyone. I haven't even begun to think about my writing discipline yet, so I don't have any requirements other than a brain that's not filled with fuzz and a working computer. I realize this is something I need to do. Prioritize my writing somehow and figure out the best way to actually keep myself writing on a regular basis. Thanks for the nudge. :)

  16. I think my requirements are pretty similar. When it comes to music, though, it has to be a specific kind or nothing gets accomplished!

  17. I can write with just about any distraction except for my children. I cannot write when they are home (and awake). I think it is part of the "should be doing" thing again. I should be paying attention, I should be playing with them, I should be engaging them in stimulating activity. But even if they are doing something else, I can't do it. I can read a blog or check email--even write an email, but I can't write. It feels like I'm too far gone, too unreachable.

    This year they are all in school all day for the first time, so this requirement is less of a big deal than it used to be. :)

    P.S. Scott, your office is beautiful. And very organized. I would have been embarrassed for you to have seen my office when I was practicing law...

  18. When I lived in NYC, like you, I used to write anywhere; the bus, the train, Central Park bench, etc. Now I do most of my writing in my large office with little furniture. Which by the way, I need to make more comfy so I can get the juices flowing more smoothly. :) But for now, it'll do. The writing begins on computer and the only other thing I need is music with the voice of Norah Jones.

  19. I love your office! Especially all the bookshelves.

    At the minimum I need a notebook and pen. I find it hard to think when writing on the computer. Maybe that is why my NaNo novels are always train wrecks, because I do them all on the computer.

    I have two desks in my room, but the place is a super mess, so I write on the desk in the guest room.

    Hey, did anyone send you photos of their spaces? I might send mine.

  20. Yat-Yee: I cleverly don't show the pile of junk to the right of my laptop! Nor do I show the table next to the living room sofa on which Mighty Reader and I pile all sorts of half-read books, half-read manuscripts and other junk.

    Davin: We all know the state of your apartment.

    MattDel: I work at a university, and people expect that it's a slacker job with down time enough to write. Alas, they're wrong, and I'm busy here. And well do I know the "too much to be done at home tow write there" bit. My lovely office has yet to be written in.

    Tere: Yay, someone else who writes with pen and paper! Sometimes I can write to music with words, and sometimes it's annoying to me. Lately I've been listening to songs in languages I don't speak; I love the sound of it, but since it has no real meaning to me, it's not distracting.

    Michelle: I am fortunate to not have the responsibilities of parenthood. I don't need quiet, which is good since the teenagers next door both play band instruments.

    Rick: Yes, coffee! And a glass of wine in the evenings can be a real aid to creativity. I'm not kidding.

    Lois: Before we had the house, I'd write at my kitchen table because the light was great. It's hard to find time to write during daylight hours at home now. But when I get my immense advance on the first novel, I'll do more of that!

    Novice: Silence is something that I can't have when writing. There has to be something making noise. It's like I can only write when I'm trying not to be distracted. Clearly I'm insane.

    Dominique: Being outside distracts me. I always end up watching birds instead of writing.

    Ken: I've never been able to make the jump from longhand to the computer for actual prose. I have a complex, ideosyncratic notational system for revising that just doesn't work on a computer. My last book was set in 16th century Europe. I'm glad I didn't have to travel there to get the atmosphere of the time and place. That would've been prohibitively expensive, I think.

    Jamie D: I absolutely cannot write with the TV or radio on, unless the radio is playing music. Though I can write in a crowded restaurant with people talking around me. Go figure.

    Robyn: Another writer needing silence? I don't know how you do it. My desk is tidy because I'm working on revisions. When I'm actually writing something new, it's a mess, with pages of notes, notebooks, maps, sticky notes and junk all over the top. I may put up a bulletin board behind the desk, too, if Mighty Reader doesn't object.

    Scott: Solitude? I've heard the word, but I can't remember what it means. The next time your partner asks you "what are you doing?" while you're writing, tell him that you're invisible. And deaf.

    Robbin: Don't forget that writing is a habit, one easily fallen out of. Make a habit of writing at the same time every day if you can. When I was writing my last book, I would write in snatches on buses or at lunch, but almost every day of the week I would go home from work, eat a meal, play some music, and then sit down to write even if I wasn't feeling like it. It was my evening routine and I stuck to it and knocked out the first draft in about seven months, and three revisions within a year after that.

    Mariah: What kind of music?

    Jennifer: I sort of have the same problem when I'm at home; I feel like I should be paying attention to Mighty Reader instead of ignoring her. I know that if I'm writing, she could tell me that the house is on fire and I'd just say, "Uh-huh. That's nice." As you say, too distant and unreachable.

    Ellie: A room of one's own, as Virginia Woolf said. Make it comfortable so your muse feels at home there.

  21. Annie: We have (pause to count) eleven bookshelves on the main floor. And we've already run out of space for new books.

    I think that the process of writing is vastly different when using pen and paper as opposed to a computer, and the results are therefore different. I won't claim pen and paper means better writing, but I think it means a different kind of writing. No, I have no empirical evidence, but I maintain it nonetheless.

    Send your office pic to scott (at) scottgfbailey dotcom and I'll add it to the post.

  22. I agree about how different my writing is when I'm writing with pad and pen.

    Noise is an essential to me. It can be anything, as long as it is background noise. TV, music, chatting people; I can tune it all out. But it has to be there to tune out.

    I have a favorite bar I go to sometimes to write. Its great atmosphere for character development. But lately, people have noticed me enough to want to know what I'm doing - and want to talk about it.

    My writing space is where ever my desk lands because it is the only computer in the house. Sadly, I have to share it with my youngest son. If he doesn't get his Diablo time, my writing time is extremely unproductive.

    Love the cozy nische Scott. I'm going to print it out and pretend its where I am when writing. When that first novel sells, the plan is purchase a house, where I'll have my own space to write the next novel.


  23. You have an impeccably neat office Scott. And I love the blue paint!

    I used to write longhand, but now I type. I write copious notes and scribbles on whatever happens to be within reach when I am suddenly inspired (receipts, parking stubs, takeout menus, etc). I have a laptop for my short writing projects, but use my desktop for bigger marathon projects. I can write in public spaces as long as no one tries to talk to me. Other than that, I don't need much else. Oh, and coffee. Must have coffee. Coffee is good. - G

  24. Sounds like we could start a club of the insane, Scott, since I don't think we're the only ones on here who can't write in silence.

  25. very nice. Cute muse!

  26. Interesting. Only the Columbus, OH, people sent in their photos.


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