We’ve all heard how JK Rowling famously wrote Harry Potter in a local cafe. In fact, the chair she sat on recently sold for €344,300. That’s some indication as to the importance we give a writer’s creative perch. Writers and readers alike are enchanted by the idea of where a book was conceived, convincing themselves that even the chair they sat on must be oozing with literary genius. There’s something romantic about it, scribbling ideas in a local cafe. Writing at a desk wedged into the corner of your council flat while wearing old Primark pyjamas doesn’t really have the same ring to it, although one can only assume that Rowling must have written at home too. But does it really matter where you write your masterpiece?
I think I’ve written in every room in my house, bar the toilet. I would include a photo of my beloved attic (where I write in the summer and stare up at longingly during the winter as it transforms into a fridge) but I’m saving that for the OK! Magazine spread. The dawn of Pinterest has introduced us to a plethora of ‘designs’ to ‘inspire’ us with ‘ideas’ to create our own ‘writing nook’. In other words, Pinterest is the devil’s work which bombards us with over-styled images of unattainable shabby chic home offices we will never have. No I don’t have a pure white room with an old-fashioned writing desk which I’ve upcycled with chalk paint and I’m not surrounded by flower-clad boxes with all my papers neatly filed away in alphabetical order. I’m the kind of person who sees an empty space and immediately feels the need to fill it with bits n bobs (i.e. junk). I would love the perfect writing nook, but in the meantime, I generally pick the warmest spot in the house and write there. I’m basically a cat. With thumbs.
So what about venturing outside? Well, yes, writing en pleine air could be a nice change except…. again, I live in Ireland. I did try to write at the beach a couple of times, but there’s a lot to be said for a comfortable chair and while a large flat stone jutting out to sea might look attractive, my bum says otherwise. Then there’s the whole writing long hand thing. It can make a nice alternative every once in a while, but I’m the kind of writer who needs the entire manuscript in front of me when I write. So squinting at my laptop while my bum goes to sleep on a rock gets old very fast.
Cafes seem like the ideal place to get the creative juices going, but the only problem with that is that they are full of OTHER PEOPLE! At the best of times, people in public places can be tiresome, but when you’re trying to write a novel, they are downright intrusive! I have no idea how writers can focus on their own thoughts while they are being drowned out by clattering delph, noisy conversations and earth-shatteringly loud baristas (do they have to smash that coffee filter like a judge’s gavel Every. Damn. Time.!!) Seriously, doesn’t anyone drink tea anymore? Sartre had it only partly right; hell isn’t just other people, it’s other people who drink coffee.
If I do decide to venture out, I usually go to a hotel. These are much more sedate affairs and best of all, they usually have comfy armchairs so you can really settle in. No-one really cares how long you stay or whether you order coffee (but if you do, they thankfully prepare it out of earshot). My nearest hotel has a conservatory that is, for the most part, empty and pipes out a nice mix of chilled-out tunes in the background. The best part is, you can’t come up with a million excuses to leave your desk when you’re writing outside of the home. You can’t start attacking the hotel toilets with bleach and a brush, so you just have to stay put and keep typing – not least to make everyone else think you’re extremely busy and important and overflowing with intelligent ideas.
So are there any benefits to having a ‘special place’ to write? After all, we’re not like visual artists who rely heavily on their surroundings for inspiration. Writers inhabit the interior world, the imagination. We create worlds. We mine our memories and nose through nostalgia for material, then spin all of these threads together into a fine cloak to envelop ourselves and our readers. In fact, I think the plainer your surroundings, the better. I’m not talking a monastic cell here, but the truth is that even if you bag yourself one of those writing retreats in rural Italy replete with red tile roofs and cypress trees, you still have to retreat to the solitude of your own mind and write the book.
I think we all saw this coming ☺