Jilly Cooper writes in a gazebo in the grounds of her Cotswolds home; Jeanette Winterstone uses an outbuilding that she describes as a cross between a shed and an office – she calls it her ‘shoffice’; and Roald Dahl famously wrote in a shed at the bottom of his garden.
When the children were small and I was an occasional, dabbling writer, I wrote at the kitchen table so I could keep an eye on what they were up to; I’ve also been known to write in the car, in bed, or even in the bathroom – there was a time when that was the only way I could get a little time to myself!
These days, I’m lucky enough to have my own study. I have all I need: desk, office chair, bookshelves, books, a couple of comfy chairs and even a halogen heater for those days when the central heating just can’t warm someone who is sitting still for hours at a time. The dog lies at my feet and photos of my loved ones look down on me from the walls, which are also adorned by pictures that I like, plus framed certificates, awards etc. There’s also a corkboard with ‘interesting things’ pinned onto it. It’s a great room. I love it.
Why then, do I really struggle to write in it? I can write this blog, I can write letters, I can write student reports and I can do all my lesson planning. But when it comes to the novel, I seem to dry up.
Recently, a friend offered me the use of a desk in her office for a few weeks until her new employee started, and I was amazed at how much I achieved. So I tried to analyse why. What was different? First, the desk was clear and tidy – nothing on it but the pc and keyboard. At home, even though I try to clear my desk every night, there are always a few things that it doesn’t seem worth putting away. Second, my friend was sitting opposite me and working – if someone else is working, I feel guilty if I’m not working too! Third, no home telephone – at home, you’re at the mercy of people who know you’re there and think it’s ok to call you for a chat in a way that they wouldn’t dream of doing if you were ‘at the office’. And fourth, I didn’t use the internet. There was a connection, of course, but because my friend was working away in the same room, I felt far less inclined to spend time on Twitter, following interesting links or just chatting.
So now I no longer have use of the office, I need to find a way of working that’s just as effective. At the moment, I’m using cafes. I love the little independent tea and coffee shops, but these can be almost too friendly and intimate, and anyway, I’d feel guilty sitting there for ages with one drink. But the big, impersonal places like Starbucks and Costa are perfect, because as long as you buy something, they don’t seem to mind you taking up a table. So for an outlay of roughly £2 for a coffee, I can stay comfortably for two hours and get quite a lot done.
When I thought about it, I realised that it’s probably because these places have all the elements I’d identified before: the table is clear – just a laptop and a coffee cup; there are plenty of other people around working away on their laptops; there’s no landline telephone, and you can put your mobile on silent; and finally, there is an internet connection if you want it, but with everyone else around working or chatting, you’re less likely to use it.
So, at a ‘rent’ of about £4 a day for two 2-hour sessions, it’s way cheaper that renting an office. If I do two sessions, I’ll come home at lunchtime to deal with emails etc. If I’m only doing one, I’ll use it for fiction, then I’ll do the other stuff at home.
If I had a big garden, I think I could make a ‘shoffice’ work, maybe in the form of an old camper van that doesn’t go any more, but in the meantime my ‘office’ will be Starbucks or Costas, because I’m finally making some progress. I wonder how many novels are currently being penned in Starbucks and Costas?
What about you? Where do you write? Where would you write if you could choose an ideal place?
For more about me and my writing, visit www.susanelliotwright.co.uk