The Writing Environment

The theories about when and where to write are numerous and diverse. Charles Dickens was far from being the only famous writer to decide that seclusion, sometimes in a building quite separate from the main house, was the only reliable way to ensure a peaceful environment for writing, and it is common sense to realise that distractions of noise or other people are highly likely to make the concentration required for creative writing more difficult.

Writing At Night

Where the process becomes embedded in idiosyncratic mythologies and unsubstantiated assertions is in the area of times of day to write and the vexed question of inspiration versus perspiration. Some writers will insist that only the mornings are sufficiently peaceful and optimistic to allow for creative effort; others say that the quiet of night is best, as it successfully eliminates all competing noises. The real truth about these issues is that each writer has to find out by experience, trial and error the times and settings which work best in their individual cases.Likewise, questions relating to the best length of time to write without a break and the number of breaks to be taken between working are about very individual preferences and practices. No one has ever proved conclusively that there is a particular method which can be said to be universally successful.However, my own experience and that of others that I have spoken to or read about does suggest that there are a few aspects of writing experience which would seem to be typical of many people.

Writer’s Block

Firstly, it can be a demoralising and negative experience to find oneself in front of a screen without a single idea of what to write. The notion that only by subjecting oneself to this kind of pressure will force ideas to make themselves known is not generally borne out by reality. Unless the writer already has at the very least a vague idea, preferably in the form of actual notes or hand written plans, facing the screen can be ultimately a daunting and defeating business. Even a few phrases, memorised if a notebook is not easily to hand, might be enough to at least keep the idea in mind, even if what eventually appears might resemble the initial impetus only vaguely. Anything, to be honest, is better than plonking oneself in front of a screen and hoping for the best. Secondly, I’ve heard the arguments about writing being 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, and it is true that many writers will work very hard at avoiding work, with the excuse that nothing has come to mind conveniently keeping them from their computers. But the ultimate reality is, putting all theories about writer’s block momentarily to one side, that if someone’s constant and repeated experience is an inability to think of even the beginnings or germs of fiction ideas, they are probably best advised to cut their losses and do something else.

Some people will say that they are being inhibited by writer’s block, and we all know that it does happen. However, it should be remembered that the term can only be realistically applied if it refers to someone who already has a reasonably large volume of work. Before a blockage can be said to occur, there needs to have been some kind of flow or process to be blocked. Assuming that is the case, there is little to be done with a genuine blockage but keep on with reading, observing and seeking out source material until something sufficiently usable presents itself.Thirdly, concerning the immediate physical environment, the following aids or practices characterise many writers’ approaches. Some of them might be said to be common sense, but what might seem most obvious is not necessarily so if people have no previous experience on which to base their assumptions.

Using The Internet

I would not, personally, like to write without easy access being available to the Internet. It is very rare that I can write anything without some historical, factual or background details needing to be checked, and it is both physically and mentally distracting to have to get up, move away from the writing and check through books until the relevant information is discovered. While working with the PC or laptop etc., it is not even necessary to close the Word document before going online and finding out what needs to be found out. I appreciate that not everyone has access to the Internet, and some people find the prospect daunting, but for anyone seeking to write on a regular basis, it is immensely helpful.

Over Looking The Channel

Rooms which are lacking in light and air are likely to be difficult for writing purposes. I am fortunate in that the room where I work has a wonderful view from the skylight over the English Channel, and it is noticeable that every piece of creative writing I have ever published has been written since I moved to this place by the sea. Of course, it is impossible to arrange an inspirational view for everyone, but even if that cannot be, some varieties of physical and mental stimulation are bound to make results easier to achieve. Even if the writer is particularly susceptible to cold, sitting in a fug of one’s own air is not going to make the brain work any better, and charts, pictures, even sometimes noises, if the kind of musical or narrative noises which appeal to the writer, will help the process along.

Screen Too Bright

Lighting can also be important. After I discovered that a series of severe headaches I was having was not actually attributable to the strain of deep thought, but much more to do with the need for glasses to face the bright light of a computer screen, I have taken much more notice of room lighting than I did before, and more care about the distance between my eyes and the screen. Peering at dense masses of print in the gloom is not going to make the creative process any easier. Much as we like to think of creativity as a wonderful and mysterious intellectual phenomenon, creature comforts are as relevant as they are in any other human activity.


One person’s break is someone else’s interruption, and of course, the circumstances of daily life often don’t allow the writer to remain undisturbed for long periods of time, but it will help if at least a few ground rules can be established. There are crucial points in writing any piece, usually when it is going well, which are particularly vulnerable to gatecrashing, and it is important for the writer to have some idea of how long his session is likely to be and to make some attempt to ensure as few unnecessary interruptions as possible. Finally, there are many theories about multitasking and not allowing oneself to become obsessed with one activity to the exclusion of all others, and there are many human activities which lend themselves to being done alongside or in the same time span as others, but the general consensus seems to be that writing is not one of them. A piece of writing is usually the result of a train of thought, or a series of related thoughts which can be associations rather than a linear process, and unless the alternative activity is particularly undemanding or banal, crashing into the train of thought might well derail it altogether. While it is inadvisable to determine not to leave the piece until it’s finished – good writing will usually take a long time and a lot of effort – while the writer is actually writing, it makes sense to concentrate on the writing and only the writing.This is the kind of area where attempting to set rules or define practices is a dangerous business and the normal diversity of human experience will inevitably mean that there will be those whose own guidelines prove to be radically different from these, but as a starting point, they should be enough to lead the individual writer off on the necessary process of self-discovery.

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