The Most Productive Place to Write

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E.B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” Where’s the most productive place to write? Wherever you decide it is.

Used to, I could write anywhere. Diners, as a passenger in the car, the bathtub Trumbo-style, cabs, buses, planes, bars, and the various control rooms and edit bays when I worked in radio and TV. I’d write on a yellow legal pad and then bring it back to the keyboard later. I could tune out noise and distraction like a mind ninja.

Now? Not so much. The most productive place to write for me is my office. It’s not fancy, but it’s mine. I say that but as I’m writing this piece, I’m sitting in bed, laptop perched on my knees, while my husband plays Skyrim next to me. Why don’t I go to my office and write? Sometimes, it gets lonely in there, and I like the din of dragon slaying and orc attacks and the dramatic music of Tamriel.

I feel like a jerk about it because, for the longest time, I didn’t have a real office. I’d create a space in the corner of wherever I lived. But I always created that space, no matter how crummy or tiny the apartment was and I made sure I wrote at least four to five days a week, usually before my day or night job. I couldn’t afford to go to college to get a writing degree but I could work at the discipline of writing.

Solitude won’t save you from “The night was dry, yet it was raining.” Photo Courtesy: Orion Pictures

I had other rules, too. The space was only used for writing. I wouldn’t use whatever passed for the dining room table or a coffee table because I’d use that as an excuse not to write there because I’m a neat freak. I didn’t want to have to clear away my writing stuff. Nope, writing needed its own area.

I’m grateful for my office, especially when my in-laws are visiting. They love to put their cell phone on speaker and bellow into it like FBI Director Gordon Cole because they believe that not holding the device to their ear protects them from the deadly radiation caused by cell phones. It’s pretty hilarious but it’s hard to write dialogue with all of the screaming.

The Public Writing Space

When people tell me they write in public spaces, I don’t see how they do it. Don’t they get distracted? My writer friend Henry thinks I should give it a try. He pretty much writes mainly in Coffee Beans. “I like the bustle around me. I like the company of strangers,” he explains. “J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in a coffee shop.” He likes to throw that one in there. He adds, “I think you’d find that you’d be less lonely.” Maybe he’s right.

Writing in public is Henry’s jam. He says he used to write on the train when he lived in New York. He could turn down the buzz around him. He said he enjoyed the rhythm of the train. It helped his writing. “I liked that I was moving through the city toward my destination while I was also being productive as well as being inspired.”

Shared spaces can be productive. Or not. Photo Courtesy: HBO

Created Spaces

If you’ve got the space and the budget, a converted shed or tiny house can be a writer’s oasis. The backyard hut is nothing new. It’s served writers well for decades. My friend Glenn took his parent’s old RV and fixed it up. He parked it in his driveway and uses that as his writing space. Sometimes, he takes it out to the desert to change the scenery. A garage, a large closet, a nook, a spare bedroom… it’s matter of designating all or part of that space as primarily a writing space.

The Shared Space

Several of my freelance friends swear by the rented shared space. They like the atmosphere. The option of having co-workers and like-minded people to connect with. These spaces can become natural places to network as well. If you don’t want to pay the rent, the public library is still a great space.

I don’t drink wine when I write but I sometimes use it as a motivator to write faster. Photo Courtesy: Lisa Waugh

The Great Outdoors

Many writers love to be out in nature or just not in their home to be inspired. A guy from my writer’s group a few years back swore by working outside when the weather was good. He’d take a notebook and work in parks, sitting on a bench, or in the grass. He’d hike and write sitting on a rock or some such. He loved writing at the beach. He said he was inspired by being outside and upon returning home, he felt rejuvenated.

The Bed

This is a go-to place when I’m editing or short pieces. I can’t work for a long stretch but it’s a nice change of pace sometimes and the dog likes getting to sleep in while I get something done. Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez writes first thing in the morning while he’s still in bed because he doesn’t enjoy writing. He tricks himself into getting his pages out before his brain realizes what he’s doing.

Parents already know how to work in chaos. Photo Courtesy: NBC

The Thunderdome

My friend Chantal laughs when I tell her about my need for peace and quiet. She’s got three young children. “If I waited for the house to be quiet enough to write, I’d have between the hours of 3 to 5 a.m. so I just make sure no one’s dead and write in the living room on my couch.”

Chantal can write in a sound effects bed. She’ll get solid writing done with the TV blaring and kids and pets running around. I think twice now before I complain about my bellowing in-laws. Also, Chantal works in a writer’s room and is prepared to work under many circumstances. That’s a skill.

Where do you write? Do you have a specific space or are you a free spirit you can conjure words anywhere? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments.

author-avatar

Lisa Waugh worked her way through six years of a state college and then decided to work only one job in radio as opposed to three to get a degree that would help her land a job in… radio. She then moved onto TV news, then cable news, and then a fun-filled place that made cartoons. There was a ghost involved. She’s been paying the bills as a writer for over two decades. Screenwriting, copywriting, script doctoring, tons of web content for startups that are digital dust by now, joke writing, and a lot of entertainment writing, mostly about TV. She loves writers and wants to see them succeed because writers rock.

54 Replies to "The Most Productive Place to Write"

  • comment-avatar
    Taira May 30, 2017 (3:12 am)

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      Elina Feliu June 6, 2017 (7:11 am)

      Even using different email accounts, I continue to get this response too.

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  • comment-avatar
    David M. Stamps May 30, 2017 (3:37 am)

    I really liked this article. I’m a bed wetter I mean “writer” a bed writer. LOL . But I do find some solace in public writing as well. Though it comes more as notes to be jotted down. I was encouraged by this article and am off to do some writing. Peace

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (8:46 am)

      Hehehe, my fellow bed wetter/writer. I just got a new bed and I’ve spent more time writing there in the early mornings.

  • comment-avatar
    Katharine Parsons May 30, 2017 (4:44 am)

    I write at Starbucks or the public library. I have a space set up at home but that became too distracting. Spaces and schedules are vital for me. These trick me into becoming creative and focussed.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (8:44 am)

      I’ve got to give the coffee shop a try. Might be a nice change of pace.

  • comment-avatar
    Karen Crider May 30, 2017 (6:55 am)

    It doesn’t matter where you write, as long as you do it.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (8:43 am)

      Agreed.

  • comment-avatar
    Kara Myers May 30, 2017 (7:33 am)

    I can write pretty much anywhere, inside as well as out in nature. Love to write in coffee houses. I can tune everything out and enjoy the feeling of not being alone as I’ve learned writing can feel very lonely at times. I also enjoy both writing by hand as well as on the computer. At home, I always set my writing desk in a location where I can look out a window while writing. I seem more connected to the universe and mass consciousness if I’m not staring at a wall. I also surround myself with specific pictures, quotes and things that inspire me in my writing area.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (8:57 am)

      I’m envious, Kara. I need to get back to that ability to write anywhere. Thanks for the suggestions.

  • comment-avatar
    Ross Farley Schriftman May 30, 2017 (7:47 am)

    Some of my best writing comes while I am out for a run. These ideas just hit me. Some are fresh ideas and others are solutions to a problem in the script. The ideas are in my head so when I finish running, I go back to my car, grab my pad and write down my thoughts. I go back to my office and type them into the script. Other times, I go for a walk and when I come back I’ve got the idea to solve the problem.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (8:56 am)

      Great suggestion, Ross. When I get stuck, a long walk or some kind of movement unjams my head.

  • comment-avatar
    Cordelia May 30, 2017 (10:59 am)

    I really enjoyed this article. I write any place I can. I dream of having a third bedroom so I can make it my own office. This summer I’m going to try coffee houses. I see people doing it and looks really cool.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (11:04 am)

      Thanks, Cordelia. Let me know how writing in coffee houses influences your process.

  • comment-avatar
    Bob C. May 30, 2017 (11:17 am)

    Oh wow, I thought I had weird places to write! I once had a story idea while waiting on a long line at Disneyworld. By the time I got off Star Tours I forgot what the hell it was! I’ve also written on the throne — THERE! I SAID IT — DON’T JUDGE ME!! What I hate is sleepless nights as I mull over a screenplay/stage play, mumbling dialogue, or trying to come up with a new — better — title. I scribble my thoughts down on a pad in the dark, then the next morning I rush up to my computer to input pX$oerugjpi//d**8dhwpoehjd…w…t…f…? A great way to work out these things is walking the dogs. Sunshine, fresh air, country lanes, your best friends who don’t chatter away to interrupt your thoughts/creative process — I LOVE THIS TIME ALONE! And best of all you can mutter dialogue and passersby think you’re talking to your dogs.

    BTW, Lisa, just FYI: Crummy and crumby are both valid words, but they mean different things. Crumby means “full of crumbs.” Crummy means “lousy.”

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (11:23 am)

      Oh, Bob. I mos def write on the john. I didn’t know if mentioning that would offend folks. Thanks for the catch on “crumby.” I had a sense that it was off but apparently I let it slide before submitting it. Hehehe. Although, most of my apartments were both crumby and crummy. I’ll make the edit. Thanks!

  • comment-avatar
    Mary Winborn May 30, 2017 (3:36 pm)

    Enjoyed the article and all the comments! I am writing this in Coffee Waves, local spot. This is due to no longer having internet at the house. Hey somebody, look for my screenplay on Inktip and option the crap out of it. I have lost all sense of my importance as a writer. So, guess I will go around feeling like a Woody Allen character . Shame I cant write as well as he does. There must be something funny in pathos. Takes Woody to find it, though.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (3:58 pm)

      Share the link to your screenplay in the comments, Mary. You never know, right? If this is the Coffee Waves in Port Aransas, you’ve got a nice little atmosphere to write in, seems like.

  • comment-avatar
    Jake Edmondson May 30, 2017 (4:37 pm)

    I don’t write daily, but when the story a stewed to the point where it has to come out, it can be anywhere. All I need is a pen and yellow tablet for first drafts. In the doctor’s office. At the coffee shop. In the airport. On the plane. My office. Outdoors. Music is nice.

    • comment-avatar
      Jake Edmondson May 30, 2017 (4:40 pm)

      “has” stewed to the point…

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (5:08 pm)

      Nice. Thanks for the commment, Jake.

  • comment-avatar
    Skip May 30, 2017 (5:25 pm)

    I remember in the middle of the night, feeling the urge to pound on the computer a treatment called ” AVOCATION.” Renee Valente offered Paul Newman $3 million, plus his points to play the lead, back in the 80’s.
    When you get the feeling to write you can be on the moon and nothing should stop you. I killed off Paul’s character in the last scene, with his daughter watching.
    Scott, Paul Newman’s son had died before the treatment was presented to him. Paul after reading it said to me, “Skip I feel uneasy about the ending.”
    So maybe it is time for a contemporary rewrite.
    Skip …..macs3333@yahoo.com
    Google …17 Things we did not know about the F-14 fighter…….No8 Skip Panzarella and Paul Newman

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (5:31 pm)

      Now THAT’S a story, Skip. If there was heat then, there should be heat for it now, right?

  • comment-avatar
    Jim Roddy May 30, 2017 (6:46 pm)

    I’m a taxi driver and I write screenplays in my cab. How stereotypical of me ;-P When I have down time, I write in a notebook while listening to either smooth jazz or classic rock. I can type/edit at home, but can’t seem to be creative at home or on the computer.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh May 30, 2017 (6:51 pm)

      I love this, Jim. And I don’t think it’s stereotypical. I feel like there’s a screenplay in there for you…

  • comment-avatar
    Dave C June 6, 2017 (3:34 am)

    On the train. 45 mins to one hour each day. Perfect time to settle in and write (except for Nap Fridays).

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 6, 2017 (9:14 am)

      Awesome. Nap Fridays… cracking me up, Dave.

  • comment-avatar
    JJ Diambrini-Palazzi June 6, 2017 (5:11 am)

    Lucky enough to have my own office — sacred space. Even my husband knocks on the door before entering (or not if I don’t answer).

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 6, 2017 (9:13 am)

      Love it. If I close the door, people tend to stand on the other side of it and bellow politely. But they don’t open the door at least. Hehehe.

  • comment-avatar
    Vincent June 6, 2017 (5:11 am)

    My two favorite places are the public library and the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (I don’t drink coffee, and I find Starbucks teas mediocre). I can relax, think and create vivid scenes at both venues.

  • comment-avatar
    Peggy Hanna June 6, 2017 (5:14 am)

    I write on my laptop in the family room. I learned to tune out the noise and distractions back when I held a baby in my arms, two little boys wrestling on the kitchen floor, and cooking dinner – pad of paper on the kitchen table.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 6, 2017 (9:11 am)

      This is a skill I completely admire. Thanks for the comment, Peggy.

  • comment-avatar
    Mustang55 June 6, 2017 (6:59 am)

    My desk, by the window is where I write mostly. I’ll venture out every now and then for the cliche cafe experience, or be old fashioned and go to a library. Honestly it doesn’t matter if I’m just writing to write, but I mostly get into the “flow state” when I’m at my desk.

    Should also ask where and when people get their inspiration, or sparks of something to write down. For me it’s the toilet, shower, walking down the hall, driving, cooking, mostly times when my mind takes a break for a second and drifts to something other than what I’m working on which goes for most everyone, I think. One time, driving to Venice for work I glanced up at a street sign and got a whole TV series concept from it. Wrote it all down (characters, setting, overall premise, episode ideas, world building stuff) in my car while driving (I know, I’m terrible) for five minutes, then for the next 50 while parked. Can hit you at any time.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 6, 2017 (9:10 am)

      The mind drift is a great place for me as well. I love your Venice street sign inspiration.

  • comment-avatar
    Nicky Shane June 6, 2017 (10:47 am)

    I scribble down idea’s at 3:00 AM with a clarity I rarely experience during the day. I usually enjoy writing in my living room and the kitchen in off hours. Once a “Road Comic” (fourteen years) I’ve learned to safely write in my car while moving and static. When I’m lacking inspiration I occasionally drive up to a park on Mulholland Dr. that overlooks the valley. Just dogs walking their owners, loners and phoners. Hours pass and it feels like 15 minutes. In the Winter I associate myself with a coffee shop in Burbank. Distracted by strangers it jump starts my verisimilitude.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 6, 2017 (10:53 am)

      I like all of these things in this comment. Paints a picture. Also, to the 14 years of being a road comic… respect. When I first moved here, I’d go to this 24-hour deli in the middle of the night. I wrote some of my best stuff there.

  • comment-avatar
    Leo Maselli June 6, 2017 (11:24 am)

    As a freelance writer, I learned nearly 20 years ago that I don’t work well at home. At home, I listen to the radio, respond to endless emails, eat when facing a dilemma on the page, make calls, take calls, pick up dust balls, trim my flawless beard, etcetera.

    Where I go to produce the best results is a public library. When I declared myself a professional writer, I went to every library in San Francisco. I found four that suited me due to their architecture, the large spaces available to me, and their serious, focused clientele.

    I write daily, weekends and holidays included. In four hours I can deliver.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 6, 2017 (11:26 am)

      Wow. Holidays too? That’s hardcore. Thanks for sharing. Also, shoutout to that flawless beard.

  • comment-avatar
    donniel aponte June 6, 2017 (11:42 am)

    I have a designated space that is very special to me. Love the art of long hand then I go to my computer on final draft.
    late night peace and quiet are my motivators. I do carry a recorder where ever I go to capture the mindless abstract thoughts of the day and make sense of them when I get home( some of my best writing) thanks for the inspiration and guidance
    Write On!

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 6, 2017 (11:54 am)

      I am envious of the ability to write longhand. I can barely read my own handwriting. I’m inspired by the on the go mindset. So thank you!

  • comment-avatar
    P.I. Barrington June 6, 2017 (12:58 pm)

    I recently moved and now have a giant office in my new home. I used to have a corner of the living room with a large desk and I miss that a lot now since the creativity flowed easily and quickly. Now I have to force myself not to play games and to write continuously and concentrate on that. I think the white noise from the TV and phone and everything else blocked distractions.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 6, 2017 (1:01 pm)

      You’re onto something. I had the same adjustment. And still struggle with it sometimes.

  • comment-avatar
    Cobalt Blue June 7, 2017 (8:17 am)

    I was that kid in school that had trouble on tests, reading multiple choice questions five or six times because the kid behind me was tapping their pencil, or breathing too loud. (I hated history class because the teacher would pace during the test and he had a knee that popped with each step) But when an essay question was in front of me the entire world disappeared. I also learned that I was capable of storing words and images in my mind for long periods of time without putting them to paper, however, when I did want to write them out I needed solitude.
    So for me it depends on if my writing is from ‘storage’ or from free flow thought. I need a distraction free environment to record ‘storage’ and can write anywhere and tune out my surroundings if it’s fresh material.
    Truth is I am always writing even if my hands are busy doing other things (cooking, gardening, swimming) and in college I had no trouble at all writing in a computer lab where people typed like mad, in fact, it was almost a competition to see who could work the fastest and I’d go from doing homework, to writing a poem, return to homework, write a short story, homework… and I’d finish five or six things in the same amount of time someone else typed two pages.
    When I lived in Colorado Gem Lake was my favorite place to write, I’d hike up there, sit on a rock beside the reflective pool of water and write. When my eyes wandered to the water it was almost like being transported into another world. But I soon realized this is also a very dangerous thing to do because I was completely unaware of the realities happening around me… I didn’t see or hear other people, or animals. There were deadly beasties all around me so I learned that when I am in nature writing I am safest in a tent. (A guy had walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder asking “are you okay?”)
    When I switched to writing in a tent I’d go to a campground and pick the most secluded site. There’s something about peeing in an out house that transports you back in time when there wasn’t indoor plumbing and technology distracting you from life. Yeah, the smell is atrocious but there are thousands of different people’s waste pooled together and it amounts to something… and you are forced to think outside of yourself… and wonder “Why do so many of us enjoy being out in nature?” “what are the other campers stories?” “What are they escaping from?”
    If I’m at a party and there’s loud music and people drinking I’ll usually plant myself in a corner and space out, over stimulation pushes me inside myself. I actually get so out of it people who don’t know me think I’m on drugs, but what I’m doing is creating stories. I guess it would look less weird if I had a journal or a laptop in front of me. 🙂 I used to take pictures in these situations, which can be a great writing tool because a picture tells a whole story in a single frame… and I can recall what I was thinking about when I snapped the shutter so it was great for recall. It also helps to take a piece of your future characters with you because you never know if you will see that person, animal, or tree ever again and this will help you with details you might otherwise forget.
    And while I am speaking of other creative outlets, I make pinatas (awesome ones, not really traditional) and I have ruined more than one keyboard because I thought will pop into my head that needs to be recorded without washing my hands first, wven though they are covered in sticky paper mache. Even if you aren’t good at sculpture playing with playdough and zoning out doing it can produce some amazing writing. A story is just a blob in your minds eye until you give it structure, add aesthetics, and decide if you are going to preserve it’s wetness so you can return to mold it more later, or if you’re just going to let it dry out.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 7, 2017 (10:32 am)

      Thanks for the sharing, Cobalt.

  • comment-avatar
    Kyle Rosehille June 7, 2017 (7:03 pm)

    I have to write on public transport and I’m getting used to it. I’m getting from these comments that being flexible about where you write is a good thing. So I’m already ahead of the game, right?

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 7, 2017 (8:13 pm)

      I think so!

  • comment-avatar
    Leslie June 7, 2017 (7:22 pm)

    I live next to a middle school. My apartment window is only about 50 feet from the center courtyard. I figure if I can write with all of that, I can write anywhere.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 7, 2017 (8:13 pm)

      Agreed. Now I really can’t complain about my loud in-laws. Hehehe.

  • comment-avatar
    Danya June 9, 2017 (5:12 pm)

    Nice read. I suppose I’m a little bit of a lot of it. I recently discovered writing on the train on my way to work. I think it’s the steady motion of the train that makes it feel almost therapeutic. It’s the reason I decided to take a train trip across the US. I love the coffee shop thing but I don’t drink that much coffee and I feel bad if I don’t make a purchase. Where I don’t seem to be able to write, AT MY DESK. I’m about to give my desk a makeover to see if it will help.
    Thanks for the article.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh June 10, 2017 (12:22 pm)

      Thanks, Danya. I see a lot of arguments for a lot of places other than the desk. Train writing sounds awesome.

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