So there’s this cabin in the woods, a quaint place where I can write my heart out. I won’t write a sentence before I arrive there because I want to save all that inspiration for when the time is right.
I see some problems with this fantasy. I don’t own a cabin in the woods. People I know who own cabins occupy them in summer and board the windows for winter. Most don’t have electricity, either. I’m not Henry David Thoreau, working with pen and paper, but a modern writer who needs juice for a laptop. For those browsing inspirations, I would appreciate an Internet connection, too.
I know the cliche. Great writers need special places to deliver their books. Places secluded from everyday distraction. Cabins. Seashore vistas. Special writing cottages for the imaginatively impaired. No kids howling, no ringing phones, no neighbors mowing the lawn in their underwear. When we’ve purged all the noise and trappings of our modern world, no small feat when you think about it, our minds open in relief and the great book spills onto the pages.
Something like that.
A few years ago I began reading everything by Stephen King, a prolific novelist by any measurement. He describes in On Writing how he wrote his first novels in the laundry room on a typewriter he balanced on his knees. Hardly idyllic, is it? Many other successful writers did their best work with trains rattling past, with the house full of relatives, often in spare minutes and hours between other obligations. F. Scott Fitzgerald pinned sheets of paper to his curtains in St. Paul, showing the makings of This Side of Paradise in a series of scenes, to help him construct his narrative. Lord help writers who lack curtains.
For me, I’ve always known the writing life through the prism of newsrooms where people are noisy, and guess what? They don’t care! Newspaper writing was a race to deadlines, always, but these days online postings make the newspaper experience a virtual deadline. The scene typically looks like this: some people writing, others interviewing on the phone, some badgering each other over stories they wrote and sometimes in good humor. Whether in newsrooms, laundry rooms or living rooms, writers have a story to complete. Most of them don’t have a cabin in the woods.
Over the years, whether writing daily stories in the newsroom or books at home, I’ve become accustomed to tuning out the world around me. If I allow distractions, nothing gets written or at least gets written coherently. Make sense?
Every writer has to find a comfortable place to write. I would love to try a cabin in the woods, although all that quiet and solitude might prove a greater distraction. Writing is a job. It doesn’t stand up well against nature’s appeal.
Rather than finding a place in the environment to write, try a place in the mind. That’s really what writing is all about anyway. The word travels from mind to paper, and if a writer can’t make that happen, all the fancy scenic views in the world won’t make a difference.