Writers don’t half have some funny habits. Truman Capote famously couldn’t think unless lying down while Vladimir Nabokov wrote entire novels on index cards. Whatever your literary habits, creating the perfect writing environment is important, so Hope Whitmore asks a literary journalist, a playwright, a novelist and a screenwriter for their tips…
Find a place to work
For playwright Leo Butler, it’s his garden shed: his plays The Early Bird, Faces in The Crowd and I’ll be the Devil “were all battled through to their published versions about two feet from a broken lawnmower, three shelves of paint pots, shears and trowels,” he says. Kenny Emson, who writes for Eastenders and Holby City takes a more conventional stance: “my ideal writing environment is the study in my flat, with someone to bring me endless cups of tea.”
Novelist Roisin Meaney and literary journalist Suzi Feay, both work from their kitchen tables. You can create a writing environment anywhere: turning everyday locations – such as part of your living room, a dressing table in your bedroom, or even, if pushed, a kitchen work surface – into a study.
Surround yourself with things that inspire you
“In terms of inspiration, I have two heavy cloth owls that were given as a present,” says Suzi. “They’re bookends, but there’s something about their stern expressions which seems to say, ‘Get down to work.’ They are also representatives of [the goddess] Athena.” For Kenny, music is crucial, as are his whiteboards with stories plotted out.
Leo keeps “a bookshelf full of play texts and a rather lovely antique desk” in his shed where he has had “the company of robins, jays, squirrels, rats, toads and a few hundred spiders. It reminds me of the dens in the wood I used to build as a kid, and perhaps that’s partly why I write anyway – [it is] a place to dream.”
Chaos vs order
“When I start something, neatness is there,” says Kenny, “and then it all goes to shit.” On his desk are “lots of pieces of paper and notebooks, an ashtray, an empty pint glass and a metal file thing that has lots of stuff in it that I have absolutely no idea what it is.” Suzi is similar: “you would shudder if you saw the scene all around me now,” she says, “scraps of paper, train tickets, an overflowing pen tray, a pile of books for possible review and two overflowing bags of paperwork.”
Roisin, in contrast, describes herself as “pretty organised in general,” adding, “I don’t like mess around when I work.”
Whether you prefer chaos or order is a personal choice, although in chaos there has to be a semblance of orderliness, even if you are the only one who can see it through the mess of papers and empty tea cups. Suzi explains how she uses her iPad as a tool for organising scribbled notes: “Thank goodness for portable devices.”
“The biggest distraction for me is the damn internet,” says Roisin, adding that when she wants to write without interruption, she deliberately “finds a place without internet, like my mobile home in County Clare.”
Mobile phones and domestic chores can also get in the way. While most of us can’t escape these things entirely, it is possible to turn your phone to silent and unplug the internet. Alternatively there are free programmes you can download such as Stay Focused and Leechblock, which you can set to limit your access to sites such as Facebook.
As for domestic chores, allot time to writing so you don’t feel you should be doing something else. Remember, this is what you want to do, and it’s important.
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