Sunday, November 15, 2009


It's often said that writing is a lonely profession. It is, only if you let it become so. Moreover, writing solo, sequestered in a windowless room or remote cabin, isn't always effective. You may think you need absolute silence and protection from distractions, but the truth is, you'll have much more to write about and develop a stronger focus if you get out into the world and give yourself frequent breaks.

Let me explain a little further... The thing is, if you limit your experiences in the real world, you also limit the material you can then use in your short stories, articles, and novels. You meet fewer people (characters/subjects), you restrict the possible settings you have available for stories, and you know a lot less about the business of life. That is...the business of other people's lives. You need all of these things to build a story. So shutting yourself away to write isn't always necessary or even the best way to handle a writing project. Even when I'm working on a historical novel set centuries before today, I can benefit from people-watching, noting how they interact or react to a variety of situations. I can observe nature when I take myself outside, which has always been around us, and apply it to my story. You need raw material from which to build characters, settings, plot. Although some writers will tell you, "Hey, that's what fiction is all about, I can just make it up," the truth of the matter is, every writer's muse needs inspiration. And we get inspiration from real life, from our experiences in this world.

The other advantage to getting out of the house, or whatever sealed room you put yourself into when you write, is to provide yourself with fresh surroundings. Many very successful writers will tell you that they need to leave home to write for at least some of the time. One best-selling mystery writer writes in a small but busy restaurant in downtown Baltimore. Others have told me (because I'm nosy and I asked) their favorite writing spots are in Starbucks, the park, at the zoo, in an airport (even when they aren't waiting for a flight), and one loves a certain Disney theme park. You would think that these busy, often noisy places would provide the worst writing atmosphere with an intolerable collection of distractions. But to these writers these spots offer a comfortably anonymous setting in which they can zone out and write, while at the same time not feeling cut off from people or as if they are punishing themselves.

Find a place that you enjoy where you can take a laptop computer or notebook and pen. Make yourself comfortable in a corner, on a park bench, at a table with a cup of coffee, sitting under a tree, or in the food court at the mall. This can be one of several alternate offices for you. Many of my writing students at the Writers' Center in D.C. have experimented with this idea, either on their own or with a writing buddy, and report that it's given them new energy and their writing a fresh edge. Let me know what new favorite writing spots you discover! -- Kathryn

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