A room of one’s own

After reading Rachel Aaron’s interesting post (and now Kindle ebook) on how she increased her writing output five-fold, I tried to experiment a little with where/when and in what position I wrote during Nanowrimo last month. I didn’t keep the detailed notes that she did, so none of this is scientific, but I did notice a few trends that seem to jive with what I can recall about other kinds of work (scientific, programming, homework back in the day, all of it).


in the (gorgeous, if modern) Shoreham House

No. 1 biggest thing for me: open space in front of me. This includes the kitchen table projecting outward into the middle of my very large kitchen/living room, the amazingly comfortable chairs at the Cambridge public library sitting at shelf ends and staring through their giant windows at the park out front or the tennis courts beside, the truly enormous tables lining the wide aisles of the Boston public library, the comfy couch chairs at the MIT library — the recurring theme of libraries also suggests I like being surrounded by books, which I do, but that could be more personal — coffee shops, or even propped up by pillows in bed (although I hear that busy habits in bed can lead to insomnia, but that’s another diversion altogether, e.g. tips for insomniacs). Notably, the typical desk against the wall (like in my office, any cubicle, those little corralled desks in the library corners) are awful for me, unless of course they face a big window with a view. When I worked on my phd thesis, I did most of my writing on the living room couch, or on the floor, with papers spread out across all horizontal surfaces (even though my cat tried to sprawl across hiding them out of jealously (?) ), and not in my office at my desk facing a wall. I wonder if those giant computer screens mimic that sense of open space for some people?

No. 2: working on my lap. Is the formality of the desk? I’m already resigned to working on laptop, sharing it’s workload with daytime physics tasks. By moving it off the desk/table and more comfortably on my lap from a slightly reclined seated position, facing outward onto the room, ideally filled with books, I’ve moved as far as I can from what I associate with ‘work’. Yup, even at the library with those ginormous tables, I prefer to work angled away from the table with my laptop perched on my crossed knees. Ergonomic? Probably not. But 50k words later, I haven’t noticed a problem, and, if anything, my wrists are happier than after a day of muchos typing at a desk.

No. 3: the rest. What about time of day? Lighting? Programs? Honestly, I’d like to claim I’m most creative in the mornings, but I have to admit that I’m style waking up stressed to get to work and that time doesn’t work for me. I can manage a good few hours after work before dinner as long as I’m not too hungry to get distracted (a big lunch or ample snacks work well). After dinner doesn’t usually work for me either. Then with enough lighting and some variant of distraction-free writing software, I can’t really ask for more (well, besides an ever present muse, casual and distinctive ease of flow, and an already well-honed and unique style, but, well, besides those). 

Considering writing is still ‘work’ in a way, it makes me wonder about all those space saving cubicle-equivalent work spaces against a wall. The stereotypical boss has the large window view and the desk facing outward. 

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