I feel like I’ve said this a thousand times over, but I’ll say it again: The simple answer is it depends. There are many factors to take into consideration, but I will give you my personal experiences on where and when I like to write.
The first answer is anywhere and everywhere at any time! If I have an idea for a new plot or an interesting thought for a character, I’ll jot it down on anything that’s available even if that is a sheet of toilet paper. If your muse is talking, you’ve got to listen. Sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990, J.K. Rowling jotted down her initial thoughts and ideas for Harry Potter on paper napkins! Inspiration comes when it comes.
Those unique moments are the exception, though. More often, we have a set place and time where we do our best work. The trick is to find the place and time that works best for you.
Personally, I like white noise and being around other people, not actively engaging them as that would be distracting, but just having them around. Oftentimes, you’ll find me writing on my laptop in a bar or a pub with an adult beverage in my hand. I wrote the final chapter of The Drift, for example, at Baker St Pub & Grill in Houston, Texas.
Now living in Saigon, I spend most of my time writing prose on the rooftop of my apartment building which faces an Olympic training center. At all hours of the day and night, I sit typing away in the cool breeze under the metal-covered pergola listening to training athletes play basketball or soccer. The view is great and the white noise puts me at ease. In my earlier days of writing, I preferred the peace and quiet of working at the desk I had placed by a window in my second-floor bedroom.
My writing times vary from day to day. When I’m really in the thick of it and on a roll, I’ll write pretty much from the time I wake until I go to sleep. Most days, I try to get in at least eight hours. Writing, after all, is a job; the only difference from a traditional 9 to 5 is that you are your own boss, setting your own schedule and keeping yourself motivated without a manager coaxing you on.
If I were to give an aspiring author advice on where and when to write, I would offer these three suggestions:
1. Choose a place that works for you.
Perhaps you feel at ease sitting at a desk by the window. Maybe, like me, you enjoy the white noise of having other people around. If that’s the case, try writing under the shade of a tree in a park or in a comfortable lounge chair at the back of the bar. Try a few different settings for writing until you find one that really works for you.
2. Choose a time that suits your lifestyle.
Maybe you work 9 to 5; if that’s the case, make time to write in your evenings or early in the morning. If you’re retired like me, then try out different timeframes for writing until you find one that really gets the juices flowing. Studies have shown that we do our best work in the mornings, but that may not be true for you. Test the waters.
3. Religiously stick to your schedule.
Once you have established an effective timeframe, stick to it. Treat it like an actual job because it is! You wouldn’t leave the office on a whim, so don’t allow yourself to do that with your writing.
4. Don’t limit yourself to one location; follow your inspiration wherever it comes.
Keep a journal on you at all times to jot down ideas. Cell phone note-taking apps work as well, but there is something special about putting pen to paper. When you go on vacation, bring your laptop with you; you never know when the urge to write is going to come.
5. Exercise your craft.
Everything we do in life gets better with practice. It doesn’t take long to establish a habitual routine, whether it be with writing, exercising, dieting, or anything else. If you’re interested in that topic, I highly recommend that you read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
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