Places to write

Like many writers, I’ve done my time in coffee-shops, and I can make it work if I need to, but most of my writing gets done at home, sitting at a desk in my own little space. Which is fine. It’s convenient, I can shut the door and focus, and I don’t need to buy over-priced coffee to do it. But sometimes I do feel it’s nice to shake things up a bit and a change of (non-distracting) background can be energising.

Libraries (obviously) are a wonderful alternative. I used to frequent the Guildhall Library in London during my lunch hour. I also tried writing in the main space of the British Museum (usually crowded, no guarantee of space to sit) or outside on a bench (usually wet or cold!)

Driving somewhere remote but scenic and working in the car is another perennial favourite, but rarely executed. I don’t travel much, so can’t really say I work on planes or in hotel lobbies as I’m usually too caught up in the novelty of the experience.

For a few years, I got an hour’s writing done on the train travelling to work every day. (But not on the way home because I was invariably in a brain-dead state by then and only fit for dozing). At first, I felt incredibly self-conscious. Plenty of other commuters had their laptops out but they had spreadsheets open, or poked at what were obviously work-related documents, or just noodled away at their email. I, on the other hand, might be describing the scintillation of energy bolts in some space battle far beyond Earth’s orbit or plotting the subjugation of humanity by our AI overlords. I could never be sure what others on the 7.10 to Waterloo would make of it if they shoulder-surfed my screen.

So I bought myself a screen filter that made shoulder-surfing difficult and worked in a light grey font that was microscopically small – so that even I struggled to read my words.

Gradually things changed, or at least, my attitude changed. When some of those stories began to get published and I even won an award or two, the inhibitions dropped away. No stranger has ever actually approached me and said, “Excuse me but are you writer?” but I rather like the idea that they might.

A little while ago my wife bought my one of those notebooks with “Careful – or you might end up in my next novel,” inscribed on the cover in bold letters. I don’t flaunt it, but I don’t hide it away either if I’m out and about. (And it’s a lovely thing to write in). I’m still hoping for the day when someone (probably another writer) says, “Oh, are you a writer then?” and I can smile and say self-deprecatingly, “Why yes. As it happens, I do scribble now and then.”

But it hasn’t happened yet.

Music to write to

For the last few weeks, I’ve been putting music on in the background while I’ve been writing. That’s not something I’ve done much of in the past. I tend to find songs with vocals distracting, and often the tempo and mood of the song clashes with the ideas I’m trying to get down on paper (too upbeat, too downbeat, too much damn fun that I tend to stop writing to listen!). But ever since author Gareth Powell shared his “Writing” playlist on Spotify, I’ve changed my mind.

Almost all of the music in this playlist is instrumental, and that helps. A lot of it is drawn from film scores which seem especially good at capturing mood in a non-invasive way. It’s music that to some extent can disappear into the background (which is what I want) yet works its magic in terms of mood and inspiration.

And boy is there a lot of it! About 96 hours all told, so little danger of getting bored hearing the same tracks over and over. I’m familiar with some of the work, but much of it is new to me and there are some real gems in there–another bonus!

So if working to laid back, subtle-but-inspirational background music is your kind of thing, then I urge you to give it a try. (And many thanks, Gareth, for sharing!)

Here’s the link to the playlist: