Creative distance

I’m not in a hotel room, currently.  It’s actually an apartment we’ve rented for a week, for slightly less than a hotel room for the same period would have cost.  We’re in a different hemisphere for my best friend’s wedding, and today we’re being left to our own devices while we recover from the weapons grade jetlag of 25 hours flying.

When we were planning our day earlier, I realised I’d have an early afternoon lull after going to the shops, because my wife will be taking a nap and I find it difficult to sleep in places that aren’t a bed at times that aren’t night.  When I realised I’d have this time, my first thought was “Great, I can get some writing done”, and as I thought that it occurred to me that getting some writing done in a rented apartment was one of the things I had been looking forward to most in this trip.  Not as much, obviously, as seeing my best friend in the world marry the man she loves, but certainly a big attraction of the time off and away from home was to drag out my laptop and sit and write somewhere interesting.

It’s the “away from home” part that I found most interesting when reflecting on this.  I write at home, of course.  Probably the majority of writing I’ve done has been in my house and at my desktop (or between 2010 and 2012 my laptop).  However, nothing in the world makes me feel more productive, and more compelled to write, than being somewhere else.  It’s why I organise writing events in cafes all year round in addition to the 10  or so write ins we put on  during November for NaNoWriMo.  It’s why I insist on taking my laptop with me even if we’re just going to a hotel overnight.  Being away from home doesn’t necessarily make me WANT to write, but it makes me feel more CAPABLE of writing., and I’ve had to wonder why that’s so true of myself.

I think part of it is that my desktop is where I do everything when I’me at home.  It’s where I watch TV, it’s where I play games, it’s where I talk to people.  We barely use the front room of the house for anything unless there’s a show we really want to watch together, because watching at my desk is so much easier. (I even have my tablet set up as a a second screen, so I can play Guild Wars 2 while watching Star Trek Voyager, but even as I type this I realise there are of depths of nerdery I should leave unplumbed). The downside to this is that it means I’m writing on the same device that contains all my favourite distractions from writing.  Usually I can concentrate, but sometimes it’s the equivalent of having to do your homework in an amusement park.  Which might be the weirdest analogy I’ve ever made.

Grabbing my laptop and going somewhere else to write therefore has two effects.  It distances me a little bit from my fun distractions (I do have games on the laptop but they tend to be slower and simpler and less immediately appealing) and it symbolically moves me out of my recreation space and into my writing space. By going to a cafe or a hotel room or somewhere that isn’t my desk in my office I’m giving myself the instruction “this is writing time, you will write now”.  That instruction doesn’t hold as strongly at my own desk, unless I’ve got other artificial constraints on me, such as it being November.

I’ve always been someone who sucked at self-discipline, needing external structure to flourish.  Hence taking to NanoWriMo so hard.  Hence enjoying writing flash fiction and other forms of structured, confined fiction.  Hence a blog about trying to get 20 rejections in a year.  And hence my fondness for hotel rooms, cafes, and other non-home locations that give me not just permission to write, but an (artificial) obligation to do so.

One of the tricks of writing, I think, is fooling yourself into doing it.  Being more creative than you think you have energy for, finding reserves within yourself that you have to access now and can choose to access later.  Being distant from my usual workspace and my usual habits has helped me identify one of my methods.


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