By Carrie Patel
For those of us who are not full-time novelists, fiction writing is something we accomplish with whatever time we make. That time may be structured—in the quiet morning hours before our other work, for instance—or it may be cobbled together from whatever moments we can find, whether in a busy airport waiting for a flight or in a quiet breakfast room after the kids are in bed.
Wherever we are, finding a productive headspace depends largely on establishing a workspace that is conducive to focus and creativity. The particulars of the ideal workspace—how public or private, how quiet or busy—will vary among writers as well as tasks. The buzz of activity in a coffee shop may be the perfect backdrop for a session of first draft writing or outlining, but a silent study may be best for revision. As with all things process-related, it’s important to know your own habits and tendencies to determine what kind of environment is best for you. Are you a solitary type, or do you crave company? Are you a creature of habit, or do you need variety and spontaneity?
Personally, I like having a few different places where I know I can get writing done:
At home, I have a desk in one corner of the living room. It’s big enough to accommodate my laptop and a second monitor, which is helpful if I want to refer to research or revision notes while I’m writing. I try to keep both my desk and my computer’s desktop free of clutter, which improves my focus and my peace of mind. If I want to stand for a spell, the printer and the Playstation box stack up to just the right height for positioning my laptop! Best of all, my canine assistant has a station next to the desk. It’s nice to be near to all the comforts of home, but sometimes it’s a little too comfortable.
On days where I need a change of scenery, I sit in one of the common areas in my community or go to a nearby coffee shop, where the simple act of paying for a drink spurs me into staying on-task. Getting away from all the distractions and chores at home helps me focus, and a gentle hum of activity provides just the right amount of background noise. If my environment gets too loud, I can plug in my headphones and listen to an ambient noise loop (I’m partial to Coffivity’s “Morning Murmur” track) or soft instrumental music (like Chilly Gonzales’s Solo Piano albums). Internet service can be spotty, but if I’m not doing research, that’s often a blessing in disguise.
I frequently write on my lunch breaks, and for that, getting out of the office is a must. Fortunately, California weather makes that easy and pleasant! There are a few different courtyards and seating areas near my building, so it’s easy to find a quiet spot in the shade. I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t be able to shift my focus away from my other work quickly enough to make good use of a lunch hour, but shifting my environment and sitting down with a plan in mind is surprisingly effective.
The best writing space is a lot of things, and it may not be the same from one day to the next. It’s convenient to reach but removed from other work and leisure spaces. It’s conducive to focus and pleasant to inhabit. But with a little planning and organization, you can learn to turn almost anyplace into a good writing
Carrie Patel is a novelist, game designer, and expatriate Texan. She is the author of the Recoletta trilogy, which includes the science fantasy murder mystery The Buried Life (2015), the political thriller Cities and Thrones (2015), and the recently released The Song of the Dead (2017), published by Angry Robot. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and PodCastle.
As narrative designer and game writer, she works for Obsidian Entertainment, an award-winning development studio known for story-driven RPGs. She worked on Pillars of Eternity, which was nominated nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing, and its expansions, The White March Part I and II. She is currently writing for Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire.