Writing Environments

6 Oct

That is to say, the environment or environments in which we do our writing.

I was writing to a friend a couple of days ago about the early onset of the rainy season here (we hope it is the early onset of a season and not just a flash in the pan before a winter drought.) She said wether like this, i.e., rain, made her feel more driven to write. Given how much this young woman seems to turn out already, any increase must cut seriously in to her sleep, but she sounded happy, the way writers always sound when writing is going well.

It made me think of a discussion my listserve got in to some years ago in which we talked about the environments we created around ourselves to make writing easier/more pleasant/possible. There were a lot of surprises. There was a Navy chaplain who had a room done up Indiana Jones style, and a famous writer who worked in a purple room. A lot of us wrote to music, which I find almost impossible.

Christopher Fry, the English playwright, was perhaps the most environmentally sensitive writer. wrote a quartet of plays, each of which was supposed to be emotionally tied to one of the seasons, and is supposed to have written outside whenever he could. Hence, The Lady’s Not For Burning. I wonder how he managed to write the winter play, though, given what English winters can be like.

For myself, I seem to need three things: a computer, a flat surface, and quiet. I have a room to myself for writing now, but if we have to move, I can shoe horn into a corner somewhere and carry on, which is a comforting thing to know. I wrote two good books at a small desk in the corner of the guest/family/Douglas room in our last place, and was very happy there. My neighbor raised beautiful flowers that grew up over the fence and smiled at me. I had all that color without any of the work. Lovely.

But the best advice I ever read on writing environments was, “Don’t have one.” This came from a Jack Woodford book published back in the 1930’s. Jack Woodford was a pretty successful hack who turned out short stories, novels, and screenplays. His take on the subject was, the more sensitive you are to your surroundings when you’re writing, the less able you’ll be to write when you need to. He had a point. Lope de Vega, the famous Spanish playwright who was a contemporary of Shakespeare, claimed to have written over 1100 plays in his long life, and the claim is probably true because we have almost 750 of them. He trained himself to be able to write anywhere, even inside a lurching coach. How did he manage that with a quill pen and some ink? I don’t know, but he did it.

Maybe the great principle here is to be aware that environment is important, and depending on your circumstances, either discover exactly what you need to get the job done, confident that you’ll always be likely to have it, or to learn to write in a 16th century stagecoach with a quill pen and still get your word count done for the day. Because at the end of the day, that’s the thing that matters most.

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