I’ve noted in a previous post that some writers, and creators in general, have a preferred time of day for working (Good morning brain). But what about in a preferred – or even required – location?
Listening to an interview with writer Donna Tartt, from a few years ago, this response struck me:
“I can write anywhere. I can write curled up in the corner of somebody’s house. I can write on the Madison Avenue bus. All over the place. Always have been able to. In the bathtub… I wrote a lot of Goldfinch in the New York Public Library…”
Tartt also stated that she [would] “…carry a notebook with me wherever I go because if I don’t write it down when I think of it, I’ll never think of it again.” I think most people who write will recognize that, and similarly carry around a notebook and pen, or a device on which to jot ideas when inspiration strikes. I think that’s rather different, though, from actually sitting to write, to concentrate, for a number of hours straight.
Then there are writers who’ve been highly specific about their creative location (and, often, routine). Maya Angelou was known to keep up payment on a spartan hotel room that she could inhabit from early morning, in which she could be alone to focus and write. James Bond author Ian Fleming said the idea for his famous character came to him at his Jamaican estate Goldeneye; thereafter, he wrote all Bond novels at the same desk on the estate.
Jane Austen’s working environment was apparently rather less private as she penned all her novels in the family parlour at Chawton, where she must have been continually interrupted by domestic life going on around her. In Austen’s case, it was perhaps a matter of needs must. We may think, too, for instance, of JK Rowling, who had the initial idea for her Potter books on “a Manchester-London train” and continued much of the earlier drafting in the Elephant House Café in Edinburgh, to avoid the bills that heating her apartment would incur.
However, it’s possible that, like Tartt, Austen had no issues with writing in public spaces – and indeed, 18th-century notions of ‘privacy’ were presumably different from those we have today. Again, this may be akin to the person who is happy – even happiest – to set up their work station in a coffee shop, observing life around them. Technological devices have made the biggest difference here, of course, the modern-day equivalents of the portable writing box.
Lack of options aside, the psychology of why some people prefer specific, dedicated places to work does not seem opaque. For some, there is an association that triggers their work mode, they become anchored to specific places associated with work. Like Angelou, others need peace and isolation in order to concentrate. Then there is a possible correlation with success: as with Fleming, some writers found early success by working in particular place and wish to continue that winning formula. It may become a superstition, like a sports person wearing their lucky shirt or playing under their lucky number.
What about you? Do you need a specific location and environment in which to work, or can you do it anywhere?