On writing: Creating the perfect writing atmosphere

When writing, one of the most important aspects for being productive is the atmosphere or environment. It is common for a writer to have a particular set-up for writing. Whether that is a special place in their home, such as a desk dedicated to only writing, or just cultivating a particular writing atmosphere, where and how writing takes place is quite important.

George Bernard Shaw's writing hut newspaper article 1929Where writing occurs can be essential in creating a productive writing atmosphere as documented in the case of many famous authors: some authors such as George Bernard Shaw and Roald Dahl had dedicated writing spaces in the form of a writing shed, separate from their home. Maya Angelou was known for renting a hotel room where she could go during the day to write, free from the distractions of home.

Even if they did not designate a specific space for writing, other authors have focused on how they write. It’s common to sit at a desk, but Ernest Hemingway and other writers have preferred standing up while writing, while others like Mark Twain and George Orwell swore by lying down to write. Vladimir Nabokov wrote on index cards so he could rearrange the cards if he wanted to change the sequence of events. Other authors prefer writing longhand, moving to typewriters or computers for later drafts.

Most writers don’t have the kind of flexibility that famous authors do in creating the perfect writing atmosphere. But you can still try to create a more productive writing environment starting with these strategies.

Writing in seclusion or at home?

Secluded writing shed (Photo by Paul Itkin)As discussed already, some writers absolutely require seclusion when writing. Are you this kind of writer? Do you find yourself easily distracted while at home or at your desk? Do you live with other people who do not understand the meaning of a closed door, or the request to give you some quiet time while you write? If this sounds familiar, you might need to a secluded writing spot away from home.

Now, I can’t imagine many readers will have the luxury of building a writing shed à la Shaw or renting a hotel room à la Angelou, but you can still get out of the house. Try finding a public space where you can work uninterrupted. There’s the cliché of writers at coffee shops for a reason: some people need to get out to write, whether that’s because they need to find some outside inspiration or they just can’t get any writing done at home. Continue reading

A few of my favorite things: The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice’s Moon Colony Bloodbath (2009)

In 2009, The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice released Moon Colony Bloodbath. The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle described the nineteen minute EP as a “loose” concept album with a science-fiction theme: “Some of the songs have something to do with a loose rock opera/’concept album’ idea about organ harvesting colonies on the moon and the employees thereof, who spent their off months living in secluded opulence in remote American locations. Concepts like this are actually more fun when you abandon them but leave their traces kicking around, so that’s what we did.”

I discovered Moon Colony Bloodbath from this io9 article, for which I will be forever grateful. After I got ahold of the EP, I must have listened to it on repeat dozens of times in the first week alone (though that’s admittedly easy to do with something just nineteen minutes long). The first song, “Surrounded,” begins with the line “pale white moon shines down on Colorado,” and, at the time, I was in Colorado in winter. With its chilling theme, and Moon Colony Bloodbath was the perfect accompaniment for driving down dark winter roads at night.

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A few of my favorite things: Cowboy Junkies’ Open (2001)

When I write, there is a certain kind of music I like to listen to. It is difficult to pin down exactly what kind of music it has to be, but I notice that most of the music has a narrative thread running through it.

Sometime in 2005, I was browsing my local library’s CD rack for new music. I don’t remember how I conducted my search exactly, but, somehow, Open fatefully caught my eye. I had not heard of the Cowboy Junkies—not surprising since they are relatively unknown outside of Canada—but I checked out the CD and listened to it.

Cowboy Junkies OpenThe opening song, “I Did It All For You,” is a haunting narrative, about death, murder, guilt, and rage. What the narrative exactly is must be teased out from the lyrics and calls for the listener to dwell on its meaning. After years of listening, I am not even sure that I can entirely define what story, or stories, it tells. But the emotions communicated throughout the song are clear, and I listen to “I Did It All For You” when I am teasing out aspects of intense scenes.

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