One alternative is to find a public place that has everything you need to be able to write. If you hang out on the NANOWRIMO forums during November, you’ll see lots of talk about writing (and hanging out) in your favourite café, but they’re not the only spaces you could try.
1. Public library
Libraries are rare these days but they’re still a great free source of reference material, both hard copy (books) and digital — assuming, of course, that you can get to one.
A lot of libraries provide free access to computers and the internet, so you could set yourself up with a USB flash drive and carry your work around with you. They’re also supposed to be quiet, though the library in town was always too busy for me to write there.
If you’re at university, you might even be able to book out a private room for some alone time with your computer. This was free back when I was at Derby, but I don’t know if it still is now or if there are any limitations on how much time you can book.
2. Public park
Parks aren’t a great place to take your laptop and you can never guarantee dry weather (especially in Britain), but fresh air is strongly recommended to clear out the creative cobwebs so it could do you the world of good even if you don’t get any writing done. (I used to love sitting in the rain, anyway, but don’t forget to wrap up warm!)
Back when I was studying poetry and storytelling at university, I used to go to the local park and sit for a while beside the river. I’d take a notebook with me and practice describing settings and people. Even if your material doesn’t end up in your finished pieces, you’ll benefit immensely from seeing and describing people you don’t see every day.
3. Local coffee shop
When I was sixteen and already spending more time with my wrist bandaged up than not, I’d go to work with my mom and sit at a table in her little café with the first draft of my first book. I never actually got any work done because people were always in and out, and I was well known there so the volunteers and regular visitors would stop by frequently throughout the day to ask what I was up to. I personally can’t recommend cafés as a writing space because there are so many distractions there.
4. On the bus or train
If you’re working a hundred hours a week and the only time you have to yourself is the twenty-minute bus or train ride to college or work, then you might think you’re never going to get any writing done.
But why not use that time? Take a notebook with you and jot down ideas and scenes while the bus driver does the hard work. Take your laptop and write 1,000 words while the train clanks down the track.
Unless you have the same kind of distraction problems that I do in public spaces, then you could get forty minutes’ worth of words out of your commute every day. That’s forty minutes you wouldn’t have been writing otherwise — and for those of us who find that not writing makes us tetchy, then it can count as “me” time, too.
5. Take a break
My best friend works full time at Starbucks somewhere in America. He often laments that he doesn’t have time to write, but he gets a half hour break for lunch and that is plenty of time to eat a sandwich and write for ten or fifteen minutes.
Even if you find the break room too distracting, with your work pals bursting in and out and ranting about this customer or that manager, you can still get some research or reading done, or brainstorm why a certain scene just isn’t working.
What’s the score?
The benefit of any public space is that you get to observe people and places you wouldn’t see otherwise. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard creative people advise other creative people to “get out of the house” because the change in perspective just does something to rejuvenate your brain.
I’m stuck in my bed so I can’t take advantage of this anymore, but I remember how much more inspired I was every time I went to the park back in uni. Now, I have to get most of my “change in perspective” the digital way. I spend a lot of time looking at art and scouring Pinterest because even looking at something completely unrelated to writing (like knitting) can help your brain switch off for a while and recharge or reboot.
What about you?
Have you tried writing in a public place? Did you find it distracting, or did you actually write more than you normally do?
What’s your favourite public space to write? What’s the worst? Is there something to the theory about changing perspectives or do you still prefer to write while tucked up at home?