Friday, September 9, 2016

The Right Place to Write?

Mark Twain finishing a chapter?

NIU’s thesis and dissertation writing group, Write Place/Write Time, met yesterday from 6 to 9 p.m. for our first fall meet-up. Four of us convened in our clean, well-lighted place—reserved every second Thursday—next to the Fourth Floor East windows in Founders Memorial Library. After greeting and chatting briefly, we each got down to business: composing in a quiet environment largely removed from everyday distractions. A great experience!

Writing alongside others working on projects similar to your own has many benefits: structure, support, accountability, and a spirit of healthy competition (in the positive sense suggested by the Latin roots of compete: com- ‘together’ + petere ‘to strive’). In previous posts, this blog has featured excellent overviews of Write Place/Write Time and its benefits in the context of one dissertator's routine and schedule (May 20, 2016, and December 4, 2015). Here I’d like to add a bit more on the topic of the places where successful writing happens through sharing of a few pieces of literary trivia.

Other Writers, Other Places

Virginia Woolf once famously said, to be able to write one needs money and a room of one’s own (in reference to women writing fiction in Shakespeare’s day). As any grad student can tell you, she was right about the money part.  But what about that other part? Is a room of one’s own the optimal setting for good writing?

Georges Simenon--
I think he's the guy at the desk.

Settings you can’t call your own may very well feature all manner of unhelpful distractions. Perhaps that’s why Belgian novelist Georges Simenon strongly favored working in a room just for him. Creator of hundreds of detective novels, Simenon was “perhaps the most widely published author of the 20th century,” according to his official website. Simenon would reportedly complete a novel in about eleven days of isolated, non-stop writing. He would take breaks to eat and sleep, but during these writing stints he would speak to no one, take no phone calls, and never leave his room (Salgado 66). No word on whether he ever considered grad school.

Writing in your own space may help foster constructive writing methods. In his later years, as pictured above, Mark Twain apparently preferred to write in his bedroom while still in bed. Twain isn’t the only successful author who developed a fancy for horizontal composing. The approach has been taken up more recently by DeKalb High School graduate, novelist, and Stanford professor Richard Powers.

Richard Powers: Standing up at Stanford.
In a 2003 interview in The Paris Review, Powers related that his dream “has always been to suspend myself in space when I write, and lying horizontal in bed is the closest to doing that.” Perhaps this method is worth exploring.

Just as memorable and worth considering is Ernest Hemingway’s habit of writing in his bedroom while standing up. A fascinating portrait of Hemingway’s work habits appears in this 1958 interview in The Paris Review.

Summing Up: Write Place/Write Time

Ernest Hemingway thinking on his feet.

Certainly all writers need some sort of combination of place and time in order to get their writing done. May the above anecdotes and reading links refresh some of your ideas about writing, help you rethink places where your best writing happens, and inspire you to get back to it.

And remember: a room of our own is available every second Thursday in the library. We hope to see you there. Until then, happy writing!

                             Work Cited
Salgado, Gamini.  “The Novelist at Work.”  Novels and Novelists: A Guide to the World of Fiction.   Ed. Martin Seymour-Smith.  New York: St. Martin’s, 1980.  Print.


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