A Writer’s Place of Work

Washing the dishes, going for a run, runningwalking the dog, taking a bath, driving, playing Candy Crush, cooking dinner, first thing in the morning before I get out of bed and last thing at night before I fall asleep.

What do these things have in common?  Well, aside from being integral parts of my life, they are my places of work.

There’s a common misconception that all writing happens at the keyboard: if you’re not sitting there, tapping away, you’re not writing.  While this may be true for some writers, I think most of us will agree that when we’re not putting the words down, we’re making the words up.  In our heads.

And the best place to do this is when we’re engaged in a simple, routine task that we can do with our eyes closed and hands tied behind our back.  Figuratively, of course.  I wouldn’t recommend driving under those circumstances. 😉

Most of the time we’re probably not even aware we’re doing it.  Then we’ll catch ourselves thinking over the dialogue of the scene we just wrote, or are just about to write.  Or we might test out scenarios.  Like this:

Jack walks into the room – sees Jane in a compromising clinch with John.  (What happens next?)

  1. Jack takes out gun and shoots John.
  2. John takes out gun and shoots Jack
  3. John (or Jack) takes out gun and shoots Jane.  (Really, dear boy, I never knew you felt that way)

Whichever way the story goes, it’s so much easier to mentally test out each option than to type first and make changes later.

Speaking personally, I often play out dialogue, incidents and scenes over and over in my head, until I have the version I like best sorted in my mind, even down to the phrasing.  Then, when I find the limited time I have to sit at my laptop, I don’t waste any time wondering what to write or how to start, it’s already written.  I just have to apply fingers to keyboard.


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

There is, of course, a danger to this method.  Namely, human memory.  I’ve had some brilliant ideas walking a trolley round Asda or hanging out the washing, only for, as happened to Coleridge when he had an unexpected visitor from Porlock, those ideas to be lost irretrievably in the time it takes me to get to my keyboard. (Yes, I know Coleridge didn’t have a keyboard, but you get my drift.)

I keep telling myself to use my phone.  I’m pretty sure there’s an app on there that would let me record my ideas while they’re still in my mind.  Or if there isn’t one, there must be one I could download.  I’m talking about a voice recorder.  Surely that’s the simple answer?  I could even look like I’m talking to someone over the phone while I’m doing it.  So why don’t I?  I did try, once.  And maybe if I got used to it, it would work.  The trouble is my mouth can’t keep up with the words in my head.  I think too fast, and not particularly logically.

So I’ll stick to the tried and trusted method, despite the risks.  At least until they invent an app that can mentate words directly from my brain to a document.  No doubt there are plenty of writers out there who will do the same.  So if you do spot a writer friend walking around with a blank look on their face, don’t assume they’ve checked out and gone bye-bye.  They’re just in another world, living another life, writing their next scene.


11 thoughts on “A Writer’s Place of Work

  1. I have to remind myself to think about my book. I’ve started doing it this year and using those little moments to plan the scene I’m writing. That way I head to the keyboard knowing what’s coming next, which minimises the risk of a block, resulting in web-surfing and procrastination.

    I’m sure I do some subconscious thinking too, but it’s the focused thinking that helps me get actual words down. Cooking and doing the dishes is a good time for this.
    Great post 🙂


  2. I think, we only forget the stuff that’s not good enough anyway. The stuff that’s good enough, we remember.


      • Nah. We have to trust our instincts when writing, as we have to trust them with our remembering. (Because if it was THAT good, we really would remember!)
        The ‘road not taken’ will for ever remain a curiosity. But we didn’t take that road for a reason.


    • I agree with that, Peter. The only reason Coleridge forgot the rest of Xanadu was because it was an opium dream. If we thought of it once and it’s good, it’ll probably come back again, you just might not know it. Memory is a tricksy mistress.


      • PLUS – Coleridge probably only said that to glamourise it. In reality he probably just came up with a really great first verse and couldn’t follow it up.


      • I don’t know, Peter – Kubla Khan (sorry, not Xanadu) is an amazing poem, so if the opium dream thing was just a bit of clever PR, Coleridge still managed to churn out poetry anyone would be more than proud to scribble. The last line is just gorgeous – I’d own up to being stone cold sober if if I came up with it.


      • Most of Stephen King’s early work (which many would argue was his best work) was written while he was a functioning alcoholic. And then you look at people like Hammett, Chandler, Gogol, Hemingway… There may be a lot to be said for not being entirely ‘sober’ whilst we work!


  3. This is a terrific post and one I really identify with. Like you, my ideas or things I remember I need to include in non-fiction, always pop into my head when my hands are wet with washing up, or when I have just got out of the shower. Poetry seems to come to me on a dog walk – I think it is the rhythmic beat of my walking that sets the metre – but it has often gone by the time I have pen and paper to hand 😦


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