In a Room Other Than One’s Own

Calvin & Hobbes @Bill Watterson
Calvin & Hobbes ©Bill Watterson

I’ve gotten pretty comfy writing back here in Spare Oom.  I’ve got my PC for goofing off online research and music soundtracks.  I’ve got our old love seat back here, which I’ve been using for my longhand writing.  I keep the window slightly ajar and the blinds open to remind me there’s a world outside.  I’m just down the hall from the living room so if A needs me, she only needs to call out.

But what about writing elsewhere?

I’ve worked elsewhere in the apartment over the years.  I restarted the last chapters of The Process of Belief back when my computer was in the living room.  I’d sit next to A on the couch and work on the Bridgetown Trilogy revision while we had something going on the TV.  I’ve worked at the kitchen table while A and one of her friends watched a movie.  And recently I’ve done some longhand out there as well.

Writing elsewhere can definitely be a great exercise, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t want to miss out on deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise.

During our trip to Manhattan a short while ago, I managed a few pages during the flights, and I got a few more at the end of the day in our hotel room.  And over the years, I’ve written in all sorts of places.  There’s a passage in A Division of Souls that was written in a cheap hotel where I decided to stay rather than drive home during a snowstorm.  I’ve worked on the Bridgetown Trilogy revision in hotels in Portland, Cambridge, Seattle, and even Paris.  A number of scenes, notes, and brainstorming ideas for all three Bridgetown books were written during SF cons.  And I almost always get a good portion done during vacations.


It can definitely be done, if you’re willing to work.  That’s not to say that you should abstain from having fun during your vacations.  By all means, go out and see the world!  Do some people-watching.  Pick up on localisms, regional cultures, things otherwise mundane that would actually brighten up your characters.  Listen to how they speak, check out what music they listen to.  But at the same time, feel absolutely free to sit down at that sidewalk café, drink your coffee and eat your beignet, and think about nothing else but being in the moment and enjoying it.

We’ll be heading out to London in a few days, and I plan on getting a lot of writing done while we’re there.  I have notebooks at the ready, my camera for reference shots, a shopping list of books and cds to look for.  But this will also be a continuation of our previous trip there last fall for Worldcon.  That trip turned into a long bucket list of music-related places to visit (Abbey Road, Baker Street, Berwick Street, Savile Row, etc.), historic museums (Tate Modern, Victoria & Albert, Portrait Gallery, etc.), and points of interest (St Paul’s, Waterstone’s, Whitehall/Westminster).  This is going to be the Extended Remix, in which we’ll hit all those places again as well as those we missed the last time, this time at our leisure. [Yes, I just pronounced that as “lezh-err” instead of “lee-zhur” in my head.  I’m totally ready for this trip.]

Point being:  By all means, if you want to get some writing done while on vacation, even and especially if you don’t exactly need to, go nuts!  Go for it!  Write like the mad, crazed weirdo that you are!  It’s well worth it if you decide to make it enjoyable.  Don’t worry about perfection, just have fun with it!  Play with a subplot.  Come up with an outtake that you can share online with your blog followers.  Play around with character development.

Just be sure to balance it with just having fun in the real world!

A Bit More About Day-to-Day Balance of Work, Writing, and Play

Some of us writers tend to think of writing as separate from work and play, like it’s a third piece of the balancing-your-life puzzle rather than filing it under one or the other.  I’m one of those, purely out of semantics.  I think of ‘work’ as my day job.  I think of ‘play’ as goofing around online, watching TV or going somewhere with A., or some form of entertainment.  Writing?

Well, writing, at least for me, is a synergy between the two.  It’s work — hella hard work sometimes — because my brain isn’t just thinking about the part of the story I’m telling at that very moment, but also thinking about the story’s end result so many as-yet-unwritten pages in the future.  At the same time it’s an incredibly fun process, because I’m creating something and I’m proud of my ability to do so, especially after all these years of practice.  To that end, I end up thinking of it almost as a second job, albeit one that I enjoy doing.

The trick, at least lately, is to remind myself not to sit on my ass all day long, sun up to sun down.  There’s a life out there, outside of the nonstop chugging of my mind gears.  That’s why we make it a point to hit the local YMCA a few times a week and take long walks on weekends.  But I also need to remember that not everything on TV is crap.  We’ve been really enjoying Wolf Hall on PBS the last few weeks, there’s always another Attenborough or Burns documentary to watch, and Canada and the UK seem to have a wealth of great mystery shows that we can stream.

Back in the early 00s (aka the Belfry Years), I had to remind myself to put down the writing and go out and play now and again.  This is why I went on road trips to Boston and elsewhere, took the occasional night off to watch The X-Files, check out my current stash of comics, or read that new novel I’d just picked up.  Still a bit sedentary to be sure, and I was still working out plot ideas in the back of my brain, but I made sure I didn’t become a hermit.

Nowadays I’ve made it a point to get up during break times at work; I’ll walk down to the lobby to check the mail or get that load of laundry.  I’ll watch an episode of Murdoch Mysteries with A before heading up back to write for an hour or so.  I’ll listen to my mp3 player and think about plot ideas while walking a half hour on the treadmill at the Y.  I’ll still sneak in some writing whenever I can, but not entirely at the expense of living a life outside of writing.

It’s a tricky balance to maintain, and as always, there’s no set-in-stone way to go about it.  It’s all about whatever works for you personally.

New MU Story Update: Where I Am and Where I’m Going

It’s a silly milestone, but a milestone nonetheless:  I’ve been writing this new story in a wide-ruled three-subject spiral bound notebook, and a short time ago I just hit the first of two subject tabs, which means I’m a third of the way through the notebook already.  With 120 pages in the notebook, this means I’ve used 40 of them so far, which means I’ve written at least 80 pages.  Woo! Go me!

Still no title for it yet, either, which is totally not me.  Usually I give a new project a temporary title soon after starting it — either a borrowed song title or a boring phrase as a placeholder — but at this point it’s still known as “New MU Story.”  And you know what?  I’m okay with that.  It means I’m focusing on the right things.

At this time it’s still longhand as well…I haven’t started with the transcription to Word yet.  I suppose I’ll do that soon, when the time comes for me to expand the initial first draft.  From past experience, that usually ends up being somewhere around halfway through Act II, when things start to get complicated plot-wise.  I do that for two reasons:  one, by that time I have a firmer grasp of the story as a whole and what may need adjustment; and two, the revisiting of the Story So Far gives me a good idea of where I need to go from there.  At this time I’m going to assume that I’ll start on the transcription sometime next month.

Is this going to be a single book, or will it be another trilogy?  That’s a good question, and one I’m not going to answer right away, not even to myself.  It’s definitely one of many in this universe, that’s for sure.  I’m not even sure when I’ll be finished. I’m just happy that it’s still going strong, and that’s good enough for me right now.