Last year I was given a great piece of writing advice: “Don’t be so precious with your process.” How much time do we spend talking about the right or wrong chair, desk, noise level, playlist, snack, etc? There’s something to be said for having a chair and keyboard that don’t cause you pain, but while we might have some kind of “ideal work environment” in mind, how likely is it to have that all the time?
Last summer I managed to get away from NYC a few times to what I thought would be close to an ideal writing environment: Smalltown Connecticut, sunroom with a view, no responsibility, limited cell service. And you know what? I was so distracted! I couldn’t stop watching all the crazy birds and animals in the yard. I got too hot in the middle of the day, then too cold when the sun went down. The pull of fun outdoorsy things was strong (bike rides and tubing down the river), as was watching romantic comedies on TV with a grandma. I managed to get work done, but it was usually at night, hunched over my netbook on the camp bed.
The ideal writing environment is a myth, at least for me. As much as I like to tell myself I’d get a ton of writing done in a remote cabin somewhere, probably I’d just nap the whole time and be worried about crazy people in the woods.
Adapting to the environment and learning to write anywhere has been one of the best skills I’ve added to my writing arsenal. I wrote the majority of the first draft of H&S on my phone, often while standing on the subway. I love writing in cafes, and I’ll write at any clear surface in my apartment. Sometimes I get caught up on using the right device (because of screen size) but since I always have a few writing projects to work on, I can just pick one that works. (Most of these A to Z posts have been written on my phone using a Bluetooth keyboard.) Letting go of all the stories I told myself about “I can only write at cafes” or “I can only write at home” has increased my writing output and decreased my stress about creating an ideal environment. And then I can just write.
If you find yourself seeking out an ideal writing environment and using that as an excuse not to write, try letting go of some of the “I can’t write unless…” stories you tell yourself. And see what happens!