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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Write where you are

I've been reading about famous writers and their writing spaces, which are as varied as the writing styles themselves. John Cheever put on a suit and rode the elevator down to the basement storage area of his apartment building, where he took off the suit and wrote in his boxer shorts. Virginia Woolf said every woman should have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up,and Marcel Proust wrote in bed. Charles Dickens would rearrange furniture to make the space conducive to writing, and Thomas Mann had a large desk covered with objects, reducing the actual writing area.

I'm always looking for a good place to write. I don't know what makes it good, but I know it when I see it. A few weeks ago, I found a new coffee shop inside a creative community space/art gallery in a former strip-mall bar that features a long wooden table near the front windows, and I love it.

I recently visited Lindenwood University's (St. Charles, MO) new library with its soaring wall of windows. Contemporary furniture and seating in an open space with high ceilings invite everyone to sit, read, or write. A small coffee shop is tucked to the side, and the stacks include rows and rows of tall book shelves with chairs and desks scattered throughout. I love it.

I wanted to compare the new space to the old, and see how it had changed since my days as a grad student. I spent a lot of time in Butler Library, built in 1929, with its dark, castle-like lobby and old, soft sofas and massive fireplace. I loved it.

Butler Library had carrels not much larger than a small closet in the (even darker) basement. Students could close the sliding doors to shut out the world. I remember looking out the window onto a street with beautiful old houses on the other side, but I'm not sure if that's accurate (it's been a while). Windows or not, I loved it.

Regardless of where you write, and whether or not you like background noise or complete silence while staring at a blank wall or taking in a spectacular view, it's really not about the space. Just write where you are. I'm writing this with my feet on the coffee table in my family room with the computer resting on my lap. It's not the coolest space, but I'm writing, and I love it.

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She completed the Writing Certificate from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and is a certified medical writer.


  1. Like the old CSN&Y song, "Love the One You're With," we have to love the space we have.

    There is a local coffee shop in Ferguson that is funky, small and quite welcoming when it comes to muses--at least I think so.

    I love the John Cheever story. Thanks for sharing it, Mary.

  2. Thanks Sioux, I think I’ve heard you mention the place in Ferguson before, I’ll have to check it out!

  3. I like this post! I think it's a very interesting topic to explore, because people spend so much time focusing on their environments. I was thinking today how interesting it is that reading can take us to another world, but now that I read this I also think writing can transform your mind and take you to another headspace. As long as your mind is "in the zone," creativity can happen anywhere.

  4. I jot ideas elsewhere, but serious writing time goes on sitting at my desk at home. I'm far too easily distracted.

  5. Thanks Nila, creativity can happen in the most "normal" spaces! And Pat, I found myself working a lot in the past week in my computer room/office because I can shut the door and concentrate. Tonight, though, I feel like I need some background noise so am heading to the library!

  6. While I love the environment of a good coffee shop or the library, I find I do better at home because I do too much people watching elsewhere! I'm lucky to have a home office with French doors but unfortunately hubby is starting to take it over (because of our large-screen monitor he can plug into) so I'll take my laptop in another area of the house to work.

  7. Ah, yes, the hilarious cliche of needing the "perfect" environment in which to write. Just quietly, I don't even believe that the legendary authors you listed really did write in those environments all the time. They might have preferred them, but Dickens doesn't strike me as much of a furniture-mover, and Hemingway never spent very long on his feet. While I'm grateful for my local Starbucks, it's not the cliche that might get me published one day.

  8. I totally agree. am I a freak when I say I enjoy writing at 5am in my living room with my headphones on? Please don't think I am too weird - but I am a busy working from home mum with a passion for writing and now it seems blogging too :) It happens a lot that I become creative at the very least moments - like when I am washing dishes or cleaning the house - if I stop and write my ideas down - my house would be a mess :D Happy writing everyone! :)


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