Friday, March 11, 2011

What Do You Need to Write?

Writers are fickle creatures. It seems that nearly every writer I meet has a preference, a neurosis, an odd fetish when it comes to writing. Perhaps it's writing near a window. Perhaps it's writing with a cup of coffee at hand. Maybe writing in longhand first, then transcribing. Maybe wearing a pair of underpants tied on like a bonnet. I don't know. Everyone has something.

I read an "advice to writers" post months ago that had the bullet-pointed thought, "Don't be precious." Yeah, when you write you might like tea in your blue mug at the kitchen table, but you don't NEED tea in your blue mug at the kitchen table to write. Don't be so quirky when it comes to your writing atmosphere that you choke yourself. And I think that's really sound advice. You can write anywhere, anytime, with any manner of paraphenalia surrounding you.

But where's the fun in that?

I'm not suggesting limiting yourself, and I'm definitely not suggesting being a huge priss about the whole process and deciding that, if your coffee has too much cream, your Muse has been drowned by dairy and you can't write until you've revived her. Writers write. It doesn't matter where you are or what else is surrounding you--don't let habitat become excuse. Sometimes, though, everyone is allowed a bit of fun with their occupation, lest good daily work become the daily grind.

So--for fun, a little Q&A I made up. Please steal. I'd like to see your answers--and craft your perfect writing day!

1) Where do you like to write?

I like coffee shops and Panera and the big hulking study rooms at the university I work for, especially the "South Lounge" which looks like a turn-of-the-century train station. I like the ebb and rush of people, the chatter of a dozen conversations melding into a dim cacaphony. I like the change of scenery. I like people. I like that, at the coffee shop, there's no laundry insisting I put it in the dryer already or dishes clamoring to be done.

2) What time of day?

I love getting an early start on a weekend and having a substantial word count drafted by 11 a.m. Bright morning light streaming in the window. Cheerful people buying bagels or scones or taking their mothers out to breakfast. Mornings are a hopeful, happy time.

Unless I'm writing in my quiet house as evening presses into night and I want to feel a bit morose.

3) What do you prefer to be wearing?

Layers. I like a sturdy pair of jeans and my riding boots in winter or sandals in summer and about five shirts than I can take off or put back on as the temperature fluctuates. I especially like scarves, the pashmina-esque variety with plenty of yardage. I sit near windows a lot. There are drafts. It gets chilly. And I do like to be dressed--no pajamas or sweats. Makes me feel as though I'm serious about my work to be dressed properly.

4) Beverage at hand?

This one is easy. In the morning? Coffee. Preferably hazelnut coffee or my own French press concoction flavored with cinnamon. Afternoon? Tea. Earl or Lady Grey. After sunset? Red wine. Unless it's summer and very hot. Then, chilled Sauvignon Blanc. (Yes, that's me being precious.)

5) Snacks?

Nope. I get so drawn in that snacking would be a distraction. I take breaks to eat, and come back refreshed. Because if you write on an empty stomach, suddenly every scene centers on food. There's no conflict. Just eating. Or maybe that's just me.

6) Music?

Until very recently, none at all. I found it distracting--especially, as odd as this is, instrumental music because instrumentals are usually so complex and rich that I found myself listening to them instead of focusing on my own creative process. I have found, though, that music from the era I'm writing about is not only tolerable but even sustaining, so have been piping 1930s music into my ears. Plus early choral music--Thomas Tallis, Josquin Desprez--can pervade my brain without interupting my writing. When editing, I listen to just about anything. And every story has its inspiration soundtrack from the brainstorming days.

7) By yourself or with others?

I never really have the opportunity to work with others--I don't have any local writer-friends. Once in a while I'll meet up with a student friend and we'll work on our respective projects. Still, given that I'm around people 100% of the time at work (and man! does that get old sometimes) I enjoy the simple pleasure of solitude.

8) Laptop? Desktop? Longhand?

I do all my writing on my laptop. If I get bored or antsy, I can just move a few tables over or to the next room and feel like there's a whole new world opening up to me. And my handwriting has degraded to that of an eighty-year-old baboon with hand tremors.
So--my ideal writing date looks like: By myself, in the corner of a coffee shop or the like, by a window (if I've brought plenty of layers), with optional music and a hazelnut coffee in the morning OR By myself, at home at night with a glass of red wine.

How about you?


Demitria said...

All I need are Twizzlers and a diet coke and I'm good to go. :)

anachronist said...

All I need is some peace and quiet. I like writing outdoors, especially in the summer - longhand or on my laptop. Drink - not necessary. Food - not necessary. Dog - can be close, he is nice and fluffy.

Connie said...

I've got favorite writing times like when the house is completely quiet and I sit on my bed where the sunlight spills through an octagonal window. Perfect. But, more likely it's during the kids' music lessons or in between loads of laundry.

BTW, I'm a huge Thomas Tallis fan too! Especially the Lamentations of Jeremiah.

Nicole MacDonald said...

I like my laptop - I tend to have better posture with it, I just don't like how warm it gets on my lap ;p I too enjoy coffee shops and music is an utter must for my action scenes. The first book's action scenes were all inspired by Evanescence - love it!

The Arrival, Book 1 of the BirthRight Trilogy available now

Rowenna said...

Demetria--oooh, Diet Coke and Twizzlers sounds like an amazing road trip combo!

Anachronist--I should try writing outdoors more...but I'm easily distracted by fluffy things :)

Connie--the image of the window's light is glorious :)

Nicole--I love when you find that piece of music that's a perfect fit for whatever you were thinking/writing/imagining!

Carla Gade said...

I just discovered your blog and it is so lovely! Write? I write anywhere and everywhere. In fact, my blog is called I'd like to use your writing meme soon, so with the permission you granted I shall steal it indeed. By the way, I saw you enjoy reenacting, history, etc. I've just featured a series called Dressing the Colonial Lady which you may enjoy with a reenactor and historical An Historical Lady. Great fun and lots of super info. Perhaps I'll see you there.

Rowenna said...

Nice to meet you, Carla! Please do use the meme--I'll be looking for your answers!

Maybelle Leung said...

The South Lounge looks incredibly gorgeous! I'd love to spend an afternoon there.

The drinks part sounds like a good idea too. I don't have a fixed preference when it comes to writing, but in general I do love coffee-tea-wine - in that particular order. xD

Hmm my "particulars" when it comes to writing... I can't write on paper either; only computer. I also usually keep a cup of warm water beside me and a scrunchie to tie my hair back. Sometimes I turn on music to keep myself awake (especially when it comes to essays... I have very bad concentration span) - but when I'm super involved in a scene, I have to turn it off.

I'll be stealing your Q&A sometime if you don't mind ;)

Anonymous said...

Rowenna, I love this post because a writer's space is such a personal (and revealing) thing. There are a number of similarities in your way and mine and i was so charmed by your revelations that i'd love to use the meme on my blog next week, if that's okay?

As always, I sit and play catch up with your blog and as always its beautifully written and illustrated.

Thank you!

Rowenna said...

Maybelle--can't wait to read your responses--steal away! I love the South Lounge...and some other, historic places on campus. Inspiring and quiet enough to work in? Yes, please.

Mesmered--thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoy the blog. It's so true--how and where we write show so much personality! I'd love to read your replies!