The Starbucks Myth-What Writers Need to Write

February 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Does it matter where we write? Do you absolutely need that desk in the corner of the dining room, living room, bedroom, office? Must your space be immaculately clean in order for the gears to start turning in your head? Or are you unbothered by stacks of paper, assorted pens, dull pencils and a cold cup of coffee? Do you require utter silence? Music? The white noise of a bustling downtown cafe? Do you need to be comfortable, armed with sweatpants and a cushioned chair? How much do your environment and other external conditions play into the fulfillment of the internal, the development of the ideas in your mind?

Personally, I’ve never really needed much in terms of workspace. That urge to write pulsing through my body usually overcomes any trivial necessities. Yes, I do tend to work better in either very quiet or very loud places. That one voice from somewhere else in the house, down the hall, in the next room jabbering on the phone and nagging at my brain can be very distracting. There are times when I decide I need to “settle in” if I’m really going to be at it for a while. During such long work periods I might make my desk a little cleaner as a way to tell my brain to ready itself for some serious creativity, and so my elbows aren’t constantly knocking a random pencil or long-lost earring to the floor. Sometimes I’ve dreamed of a studio, complete with bulletin board covered with pictures of old houses, a lost-looking girl, a marvelous mountain landscape. Post-It notes scattered along the wall, reading: Dying woman on the side of a deserted road, delirious girl escapes into wilderness, or maybe just, boy and girl fall in love. Maybe one day I’ll have such a studio. But the truth is this: Stephen King began best selling novels on American Airline napkins and finished them in his cellar. Other authors have stolen paper and pens and written in such secrecy that they can’t have been altogether at ease when they sat down to the desk for the day. People have written in caves, during warfare, and in captivity as well as while at a desk with a Mac computer.

Having everything just the way you want it is therefore not the key to good writing. You will not necessarily produce better work if you’ve got your green tea, a clean desk, a quiet house and the perfect playlist. Good writing is not the product of ideal conditions. Good writing is the product of other things, like skill and dedication. The truth is, writers “needing” certain things in order to write is not the mark of a master writer. It doesn’t mean you might not enjoy having green tea or quiet or music when you write. It means such things don’t determine your ability to work. A writer writes, no matter what. Writers write in Starbucks and writers write in the back of cramped minivans on crumpled pieces of paper. Writers just write.

When I want to write, I don’t prepare the space. I write, right then and there. It’s not just because if I don’t, I might lose my idea. It’s because I love writing and I’m not going to busy myself finding the right place with the right tools when I grab whatever I’ve got and start. If you feel yourself getting caught up in making sure everything’s all set before you begin work, take it as a warning sign that you might not want to write today. Because when you want to write, you’re not scouting for the perfect corner of the room or the coffee place with the best atmosphere. You’re too busy writing.


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