manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Writing Environments

Has anyone ever wondered how much the physical environment in which a book is written influences the finished product?

My first four books were written under these conditions: basement room with closed door, no company except one cat, specially selected music, and totally offline. The computer I used was not connected to the internet; it was essentially a glorified typewriter. I did my research using real books, except for snatched opportunities for internet fact-checking in my workplace. (That’s another thing — I had a full time job then.) Writing sessions were at least three solid hours almost every evening, with the World’s Best Cat nearby. I wrote the entire Herbert West Series between November 2000 and late 2006. Then in the winter of 2007-2008 I wrote another, unrelated novel (which remains as yet unpublished).

Zeke, May 11, 2014

Zeke the Cat (1997-2017)

The conditions under which my latest book (now available in print on Amazon, ebook still on pre-order) was created: shared office in the main part of the house, with spouse and large dog coming and going, and talk radio or randomly chosen music. Almost all research was done on the internet, and the book was written on an internet-connected laptop (after the handwritten “proto-draft,” of course).  Writing sessions were spasmodic, some as short as five minutes (between checking emails, reading blog posts, and looking things up). Some were as long as a couple of hours, circumstances permitting. No wonder it took a whole year to produce a 100K-word first draft, and the best part of a second year to edit, rewrite, and format. And I’m retired now! Finally, most of this book was written without feline company, since Zeke (the WBC) died in January 2017.

It’s tempting to wonder if these differences in the environment of creation are discernible in the finished work. I’m hoping my writing skills have improved since the early years of the millennium. Despite distractions and interruptions (or maybe because of them?) the new book is shorter and (I think) gets to the point faster. I’ll have to speed up my output if I want to finish — no, wait — if I want to start the projects I still have in mind.

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25 comments

  1. This morning, seconds before I read this post, I was listening to an interview of James Clear, a habits-and-success researcher. He said the number one predictor of reaching your goals is how easy you make the environment in order to stick with positive and productive habits. (He said it much more eloquently!) So maybe the basement and WBC environment was your easy environment for being prolific.

    But anyway, I have She Who Comes Forth on pre-order, and I’m looking forward to it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Pat. The trick might be to write the longhand “proto-draft” in a spot away from the internet-connected computer. That’s the hard part, really — imagining scenes and turning them into words. Once I have written text, I’m more than halfway there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I had heavy lap top, passed on by a friend ‘in computers’ on the dining table plugged in only to electricity. I wondered what on earth people were talking about ‘being distracted by social media’ – I only knew about these other writers because I read about them in the monthly paper Writers’ Magazine! Now I have my own room and computer attached to the world, reading messages from family in Australia, looking at pictures of grandchildren in USA – no wonder I haven’t finished my novel yet – and then there’s the blogging…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi. You bring up an interesting question. I don’t have an answer in re my articles. Some I write in one specific place in my house. Some I write in several rooms in the house. Whether there are differences in quality depending on where I write, I’m not sure. Anyway, enjoy the rest of the week. Bye till next time.

    Neil

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I first started writing, I went into our office and wrote on the desktop. It worked for a few months, but my kids were around 7 and 4 and I started to avoid going into the office, preferring to hang out with them instead of isolating myself from them. My only writing time was after dinner on weeknights and some here and there on the weekends. After a couple of months, I stopped writing until I got a laptop. I could sit in the family room while they watched TV or in the backyard while they played in the pool and remain involved in their lives while also writing. It worked beautifully for a handful of years. But now it doesn’t. One of the things I need is a new environment that is my writing environment, but I can’t get it. That office? It’s a complete mess and there seems to be no initiative from the family to clean it up.

    I think environment is critical.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It is critical. However minimal or elaborate, the place has to be one where it feels right to write. I’m not sure exactly what the crucial element is, but at some point my basement writing room felt wrong. Hence the transfer to my current space, despite its reduced privacy. I think the distractions of the internet are a separate issue, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a really interesting subject. Most of my writing spaces are just generic computer-and-desk set ups that happen to be convenient, whether in my home, a library, etc.

    However, I almost never get ideas for stories, or for revisions to a draft, while I’m in the writing space. For me, if I want to come up with a story or modify one I’m working on, I have to go somewhere else–almost all my ideas come on walks or while I’m doing yard work or–this is the best one–exercising. Then I just try to find the nearest computer available to get them all down as fast as I can.

    I’d never realized it until I read this post, but I rarely do any of the creative work of writing when at a desk or a computer. The environment I’m in for the actual process of writing doesn’t register with me that much, because I’m usually just there to write or revise something I thought of already.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You make some good points, here, Berthold. I’ve also noticed that spontaneous good ideas do tend to arrive when I’m somewhere other than in my writing spot — in the shower or in the garden or walking/biking. It’s as though the creative part of the brain is freed to work at those times. I’m convinced that the initial creation of a piece of writing and revising it are two completely different mental processes, even though sometimes one flips between them in the same writing session. It’s a complex phenomenon that isn’t fully understood. Scientists should study us writers!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Really interesting to read about your changed work habits. I myself can hardly concentrate if there are any distractions at all, I even have trouble writing this as my kids are on the couch playing on their Ipads. I only get work done when I’m home alone and everything is absolutely quiet. I hope that I will be able to change this eventually, as it is hardly ever absolutely quiet in our home.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The more you write, the better you become. But I found your idea of contrast interesting. Also, found it curious the first book was longer than the second. I think in this day and age of over stimuli we all have shorter attention spans though. Good article! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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