You’ve been there. You want to write, but life is thwarting you at all turns.
You have the perfect writing environment all decked out.
Paper … check.
Pencils (for no apparent reason) … check.
F-301 Bic click pens … check.
But when you sit down to write, the quiet is so deafening, you cannot think clearly enough to move those words that have been swimming around your head onto the page that sits there in front of you, disparaging your intellect and any other personal weakness it may perceive.
Or life gets in the way. The phone rings, the dog and cat get in a tussle, or you realize the refrigerator hasn’t been cleaned in six months. Days later you get to that white page and try to recall why you wanted to write in the first place.
Maybe you are filled with energy and direction, but every flat service in your house is covered in the town’s donations for a charity clothing drive. (Oh, wait, that’s the Gilmore Girls.)
Regardless, your writing has come to a standstill, so it’s time to get the heck out of there and find a sanctuary to dig in and get some words down, preferably before senility or some sort of aphasia prevents you from doing so. It’s time to write away from home.
In my next few posts, I will cover the many and varied ways I have experienced writing away from home. In Part 1, I begin with some of the more obvious options with some criteria you may not have considered.
Know Your Needs:
Before you grab the keys and head out the door, here are some basics when considering places to hone your craft.First, know your needs.
Most people need some distractions around them in order to fully concentrate on their work, but if you need more quiet than most, a library might serve you better than a loud coffee shop. Musical choices can matter. If being a member of the “Country Club’ doesn’t appeal to you, it may kill your creativity. Conversely, if too much quiet feels stifling, you may want to avoid libraries and deserted areas. Since you’re heading out into the public, you will likely have to scope out a place to know if it is a good fit for your writing requirements.
If you are the ancient pen and paper sort, you can go almost anywhere. With no electronic concerns, pen and paper remains the most versatile of writing implements. Limitations include windy and rainy weather, as well as indoor spaces with lots of air flow from doors opening and closing or fans (those are more common than you’d think).
If you are all-electronic, what power source do you need? Are you good for days on your charged iPad Mini (with a peripheral keyboard), or do you need a wall plug in for your laptop whose battery lasts for ten minutes if you’re lucky. Also, portable chargers are great when you find yourself in a jam, but I have found that they actually have to be charged periodically to be useful.
Do you need Wi-Fi? You may be able to make do with your phone as a hotspot in order to log into programs, work offline, then reconnect to save your work. I’ve found that certain sources offer great Wi-Fi, while others are spotty or non-existent. (“Sorry, our Wi-Fi is out” becomes a refrain at one local place, so I always have a backup or understand I will be working off-line there.)
The more you cover your own needs, the better off you’ll be, since even the best places can have temporary difficulties. For instance, a place where I write fairly often has great internet, normally, but during lunch time, the constant use of their microwave oven interrupts service. If I have to leave during a time the Wi-Fi is out, I open a hotspot and save before I shut down.
There are scads of places to write outside the home, some fairly obvious and some not commonly mentioned. Hopefully, in reading about some of these locations, their pluses and minuses, you will proceed with flexibility in mind, select a location, and experience writing there without a lot of wild goose chase activities (like fumbling over internet, having no power, or being inundated with rap music at full volume – unless that’s your thing). As someone who rarely writes at home, I have experienced most, if not all of these.
What follows is a two-part comprehensive, if not exhaustive, list of venues for writing and their pros and cons. I look forward to hearing from readers who have more places to share or input on ones I have mentioned.
Writing Away from Home Part One: Indoor Venues
So obvious, it’s a trope. Coffee lends itself to the writing process, as does the anonymity of sitting at a table for hours, sipping from a mug or disposable cup, and writing the great American novel. I prefer local shops, but the chains tend to offer better spaces.
Pros: Internet usually works great because that’s what people are there for. Most have electric outlets near every table. You can sit for long periods of time with one simple purchase. People tend to leave you alone. Most have alternatives to coffee, if you’d prefer something else.
Cons: You do have to buy something. There is one place I go, where I don’t really care for ANYTHING they serve, but they have the comfy seats and the cashiers are nice. I go when nothing else will work. Some places have really uncomfortable seats (so much so that I bought a portable chair pad from Costco. I’m not kidding. They are black with a handle and blend in well).
Who knew these still existed? Well, they do. If you’ve forgotten, these cafes not only offer internet but most have a computer for you to use for a nominal fee. If you’re traveling or suddenly without electronic connections, here’s you quick hook up. Go to cybercafes.com and search your state. Mine has thirteen, although none of them are in my area.
Pros: All the perks of a regular coffee shop plus computer access. Great for travelers. Some even have printer access, as well.
Cons: Can be hard to find. Sometimes services change but are not updated. Not usually good for longer usage.
Not all libraries are created equal. Some are ostentatiously huge; some are postage stamp sized. Some are packed and loud; others are calm and have easy access. The writing and computer areas in my local library are about as big as an average restaurant. When locals who have inadequate facilities come in to get out of the cold or heat, the place can get loud and crowded (and odoriferous). I have utilized libraries all across Oregon and Southwest Idaho, and I definitely have my favorites. I began and wrote most of my first novel in the Eugene Public Library. The two-story window on the east side of the building provides a wonderful offset of natural light to work by. Regardless of the issues with a burgeoning homeless population (which are not inconsequential), it remains one of my favorite places to write. Nampa Public Library, a structure built, ironically, in a town I left several years ago, has become a favorite place, as well, mostly due to access to private rooms where I can read my final drafts out loud to my generous technical editor/girlfriend prior to publishing. I know there are many great libraries across the country, including the Salt Lake City Public Library and the Anchorage Public Library
Pros: Free, free, free. Free access to internet, free computers (even as guest), free programs (book clubs, writing groups, computer/self-publishing classes). Free space. Get there early and learn where the best spot is (close to bathroom, away from crowd, best lighting, etc.). Also, free bookmarks, free reference materials, and, sometimes a free sounding board if you have an idea you want to run by Joan Q. Public.
Cons: Limited hours. I make use of long days whenever possible (My local library is open until 8 p.m. twice a week). Parking can be an issue. Crowds – usually during cold and hot times of year. Timed sessions if using their computers. Also, limitations on food and drink can cut your writing time short, so bring a water bottle and non-crinkly snacks unless you want to risk chastisement from Madam Taskmaster who fails to notice you are not handling library materials as she makes a beeline for you while ignoring the person two tables down who is making fried bologna sandwiches on a hotplate.
Somebody Else’s House:
Seems like the obvious next step, but it’s often overlooked. If you have (legal and welcome) access to someone else’s house, it could be the perfect place to write. Be it your next door neighbor, your friends who are on vacation or at work, or the family cabin in the off-season. With a change of scenery, your creative mind will feel refreshed. No chores beckoning, no child or pet begging attention, and, of course, the place is much tidier than your place.
Pros: See all of the above. Plus, no one has to know you’re there, as long as the owner isn’t a blabber mouth. You can write anywhere. Maybe you like their dining room table or sitting on the back deck. Maybe the floor and coffee table provide the best set up. Or you could stand at the kitchen island and type. No one is here to judge you.
Cons: No one knows you’re here. What was that noise? Don’t break anything. Also, you have to go back home. Eventually.
From trade and community colleges to large universities, schools provide lots of places to work. Most have a dining hall of some sort, one or more libraries, writing lab, picnic tables, and several indoor areas for lounging.
Pros: An academic environment is conducive to creativity. Sometimes you will find stunning work areas. The third floor at my son’s college library has two or three tables and a gorgeous view of the mountains. My alma mater, University of Tennessee, had about a million places to write, other than the expansive library, including the phenomenal Arts and Architecture Building and the Europa and the Bull replica in the fountain outside the Liberal Arts Tower. Also, you may find unique reference materials, abundant dining services and snacks, and longer hours of access during school year.
Cons: Parking can be a huge issue at large universities. Guest Wi-Fi may not be available, so you’d be back to using your hotspot. Excessive walking and asking questions may be required to find the place you are most comfortable writing. Schools can become dead zones when students are on break and during the summer. I once walked into an unlocked administrative building to find no person on staff in the main area and only found people in a hidden conference room on the second floor.)
Government buildings, business centers, labor department:
Many public buildings offer quiet areas for people to meet and common areas that offer services. Perhaps your city county building has a large cafeteria with Wi-Fi and electrical outlets. Maybe you have a local business center that offers writing services/space. While not likely a great place for long writing sessions, in a pinch you may want to check with your local labor department to print out an excerpt and see what services they may offer.
Pros: These are public places, and staff usually is eager to help. You may hear extremely interesting conversations.
Cons: Short term solution. Staff is usually asked the same three or four questions, so a lot of patience may be required when you ask for something outside the norm.
So, there are a few suggestions to get you started. Next time, I will continue highlighting indoor spaces for writing away from home but move onto less typical venues. I will include a run-down of some of the most popular chain restaurants and my experiences there. Stay tuned.
Amy Stinnett writes the blog Laugh. Snark. Love. and is the author of the novel Lookout Butte and the Chickenshit Series. Her works feature LGBTQ characters.