The Perfect Writing Environment

This morning, I’m sitting at my dining room table writing this post, waiting for the Maytag repairman. When my husband told me he’d made these arrangements the first thing I thought was “damn another writing day wasted.” Because distractions tend to wrestle away my limited ability to concentrate.

Like Jonathan Franzen, I have my routine. But that’s where the similarity ends. Franzen did  not mention taking a break every hour to stretch his back and throw a load of laundry into the dryer. He works in an office without access to the internet. He wears noise-cancelling headphones. His office is cold, no frills.  

My home office has a big cozy chair as well as a desk chair. I use both. (I don’t think the word cozy is in Franzen’s vocabulary.) The cozy chair is for handwritten stuff, first drafts, morning pages, revising hard copy. The desk chair is for getting down to business, transposing my edits onto the computer. When I’m really in the thick of a book I will write directly onto the computer at my desk. My day is pretty evenly split between the cozy chair, the desk chair, and the laundry.

So today I’m out of my comfort zone down here in the dining room. I have a four hour window of waiting for the repair guy. 8-noon. I’m hoping he gets here sooner rather than later so I can slot myself back into my routine and my writing room. Aisha wonders how I deal with the internet. On good days, I don’t turn it on until after I finish writing. On good days, I open Word first in my computer. Much of the time, I find the world of my story more compelling than the real world. At least for those few hours a day I give over to writing.

I even save blogging until I’m finished writing. If I get a good idea, I put it on a post-it note. Blogging is my reward for working hard. It keeps me motivated. How soon would I run out of things to say if every day I had to post “Didn’t work on the novel today”?

When I’m waiting for a response from an editor or agent, all hell breaks loose. I check my email obsessively and that leads to distractions like looking at the latest cat video and checking in with my friends on Facebook.

JF is probably not on Facebook. His writing routine seems like a study in seriousness while mine is cozy and combined with housework. Plus he took nine years to write Freedom. He wasn’t working on it that whole time. He worked on other things that didn’t turn out right. Once he got the general idea of Freedom he wrote it in less than a year.

I love what he said about getting ideas for writing by thinking about the things that make you upset/angry/afraid. I can see how that would make the wonderful kind of cultural critique aspect  of Freedom and The Corrections.

For me, sometimes my best writing comes from remembering something in my past, some blunder or stupid mistake I made. Some humiliation I suffered. It’s usually funny when I give the situation to a character. Yearning is my other rumination. I think of all the times I yearned for something or someone and that goes into my story.

Okay it’s 9 am and the Maytag guy is still not here. Good thing he’s fixing the dishwasher, not the washing machine. Time to throw in a load of laundry.


  1. Thanks for explaining. My internet is always on- wireless- but maybe I should turn it off. Some days I write long-hand just to avoid being near the computer. I think that your’e right- we may differ as far as writing styles in nearly everyway but the one thing we MUST have in common is a routine- w/out it there is no novel.


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