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A year or so ago, I’d written a blog post on being purposeful about where we write.
In 1997, author David Shenk wrote the book Data Smog: Surviving The Information Glut. He theorized that the explosive growth of information made possible by the Internet was both helping society make forward-progress while simultaneously overwhelming us, the individual. He later revisited his original ideas, and posited that some still held true.
In one section of the book, Shenk noted that with the use of computers, our geography of learning has become singular. That is, we read, learn, write, communicate, buy, and sell all from the same geographic place: in front of our computer. He was concerned about how well we would retain information, since our memory and retention of information is often tied to the place and situation in which it was learned. By limiting where and how we learn (in front of a computer, reading/watching a screen), we have the potential to lessen our ability to retain information.
The same can be said for the geography of writing. Where we write has an impact on what we write.
With that in mind, where do you find the best places to write? Is it possible that where you are writing has an effect on how and what you are writing for your blog?
Sure, the beach would work, unless you’re like me and don’t really care for a lot of sun.
But let’s remove the idea of a geographic location from this one, and think instead that warm isn’t a place near the equator, but a temperature. According to a recent study, actual physical warmth makes us more likely to buy products because it effects us positively and makes us transfer positive feelings to the product we are buying. What might that same positive feeling do for your writing?
I’m from North Dakota. I’m familiar with cold and how it can distract with numb fingers and shivering. When it’s cold, I’m mainly interested in finding a way to be warm. This probably explains why I drink several cups of hot herbal tea whenever I’m writing. There’s something about holding a warm cup and drinking the warm water.
Don’t ignore the physical nature that may be affecting your writing. A laptop that’s too hot for your lap, an apartment that’s too cold, a chair that’s too hard, a couch that’s too comfy…these things affect how we write. We love excuses to stop writing.
The downfall of the freelancer isn’t too much freedom, or the exhausting pursuit of work. It might not even be the tight budget. It’s most often that innocuous Wednesday when he snaps because his entire life seems to happen within 30 feet of where he eats and sleeps. In other words, he never leaves his house.
That kind of situation may be great for manifesto-writing, but not so great for blog writing, especially if you’re an extrovert. Sometimes you need a different set of walls to look at, and different background noises, to jolt your writing into finding a different approach.
Don’t let your thoughts and input be too “inbred.” You might need to leave the house once in a while.
The sheer need to get out and be around other people and not inside your house and inside your head makes the next location seem pretty tempting.
This is the big debate: do public locations help or distract when you are writing?
J. K. Rowling claims to have written her first Harry Potter novel in her local café. But you’ll find that writing in a public place can be pretty loud and disruptive. There are probably just as many people who would tell you to avoid writing in a public place by any means possible.
Writing in a public location has its moments, though it’s probably not the time to write a detailed 2,500 word blog post involving several A/B tests and datasets that you want to communicate clearly. Or, maybe it is. It depends on one thing: how do you handle distraction?
I generally prefer silence when I write, and that means no music with words (classical is OK). But I can tune “crowd” noise out pretty well and sometimes welcome the feeling of having other humans around me even though I’m not interacting with them. This is a good antidote for those bloggers and freelancers who work alone in the silence of their home too much.
But, if people-watching and eavesdropping tend to win out, you might want to skip the coffee shop, the pub, or the morning commuter train. Don’t overestimate your ability to not get distracted by activity around you.
Writing at the library is just about unbeatable IMHO. (Unless your local library has become more of a noisy social place than a quite place of study.)
A classic old-school library is quiet, but there are other people around so you get that “I’m with humans” buzz. You have a wifi connection available, you have books and magazines for research and reference, and, if your library is hopping on the coffee shop trend, you have easy access to sustenance.
When I was working towards my private pilot’s license, I spent hours and hours at the library, studying and working on my sectionals and FAA test questions. I discovered that it was a phenomenal place to work, with the sound of rustling papers and the smell of ink and books prodding you on to writing something great. Everything about the library seems to beckon you to become part of the great pantheon of writers.
Don’t ignore the library. It isn’t just for kids and checking out books. It’s a great place to do real work. And let’s not forget: the library is free. You can just go there. You don’t have to buy anything.
If you blog as part of your job, you’d probably better find a way to make blogging at your job something that works. This may mean you have a cubicle, an private office, or if you’re like me, in an open room of desks with the rest of the team.
This also means that I got a nice noise canceling headset because it can be challenging to write about content marketing when the developers are talking about code. Sometimes I take my laptop to one of two couches and do a bit of writing there as well. I like to mix things up and just moving from my standing desk to a couch changes my attitude. For one thing, I stop thinking “my feet are tired of standing” which has a tendency to make me want to hurry and get this post done.
The nice thing about blogging at work is that, such distractions aside, you’re working alongside the team that your blog is a part of, too. Their feedback, input–even just their presence–helps you work towards the same goal they are with your writing.
Chrome extensions like “Stay Focused” seem a strange concoction, limiting the time we can spend on certain sites during the day. Why would we need an extension to keep us from visiting sites that distract us? Can’t we just do that ourselves?
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been chugging along writing and then my phone beeps and I open a new tab to see if I’ve gotten another @mention on Twitter or if there’s a new email and and…my thoughts are derailed. It takes a while to get back into what I was writing and recollect where I was headed. Not only is it about wasted time, but sometimes thoughts come in faint wisps that you can’t grab onto and you’d better write them down before they get away but–beep!
You completely forget what you were going to write. It’s gone for good.
Find a place to write where the Pavlovian beeps of your phone and your computer won’t be a problem. Find a way to keep from stumbling into social media sites, RSS readers, and other legitimate content marketing tools you don’t need to be using when it comes time to actually write.
These are just a few tactics I use to make sure I get my writing done. We each have different distractions, and therefore, different solutions on avoiding those distractions.
Above all, be able to write anywhere. This is why I carry around small notebooks with me at all times.
I hate to make arbitrary rules when I write, or be enamored of any kind of creative ritual, really. If those prerequisites become too important, I let them wield a lot of power over what and when I’m able to do my work.
There are times when situations aren’t ideal, things don’t fall into place, and I still need to get the writing done. I’d love to always write after a nap or when rested, but there are nights when 1 am rolls around and I’m groggy and I’m still writing because it has to get done. I’d sure love to work in a quiet cabin by a mountain lake, but until I get that opportunity, I’d better just write here and now.
So, the perfect place to write is wherever you are, when you have to. If you can make these other things happen, even if only to a small degree, by all means do it. But if you can’t, don’t let it stop you. Got a blog post that’s due? Better write it whether you can get to a beach and hammock or not. Make the best out of the situation available to you.
February 24, 2014
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