Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Right Place to Write

We writers read stories about super-authors who produce despite challenging circumstances. They usually include a mother of 14 home-schooled children who wrote 203 novels while her progeny played soccer tournaments in her office. Or the air traffic controller who creates Pulitzer Prize winners between planes.

Many of us, however, fantasize about literary miracles we could accomplish if only we could find a place where everyday demands did not disturb our genius.

For the majority, home does not present a writing refuge, unless we use the handy bomb shelter its former owners built during the 1960s.

But parents without benefit of bomb shelters must use the little ones' naptime, TV, movie and computer time to achieve writing goals. Creative activities--such as lipsticking walls and flushing silverware down--may keep toddlers' interest for longer periods, but no easy answers exist. Any suggestions from the mommies in our ranks?

Older children present less difficulty. The key is giving them attention--lots of attention--without involving a computer, screen or cell phone. Play with blocks, balls and board games, and within minutes, you'll find yourself bankrupting yourself on Board Walk. Now, put the game down and go back to work.

Teens are even easier, as they dislike your company, anyway. Tell elephant jokes to their friends and show them how you used to dance the jerk, and they will not approach you until time to pay for college.

Spouses, however, can present challenges tantamount to those of dealing with toddlers. Some writers resort to negative tactics, threatening to starch spouses' underwear or microwave their charge cards. Positive reinforcement--better known as bribery--produces better results. For example, "Give me two hours of undisturbed writing time, and I'll stop wearing that sweater my mother gave me for Christmas." Or "I'll get the oil changed in my car before the engine falls out." Or "I'll [spouse fills in the blank]." Note: Consult a lawyer before signing anything.

Despite off/on buttons, answering services and caller identification, phones often present a problem. If you cannot resist your ringtone, I suggest you read The Chicago Manual of Style aloud to callers. Any telemarketer with a shred of self-preservation instinct will cease and desist, as will relatives who want to borrow money or in-laws with parenting advice.

Imaginative measures also can discourage solicitors or nosy neighbors. A moat with crocodiles conveys the need for privacy. Also, do research for your eighteenth-century romance by guillotining fruit in your front yard, and no siding salesman will dare invade your space. Plus, you'll eat healthy.

Some writers solve the privacy problem by leaving home and going public.
  • Deserted college libraries present good writing environments. Take care, however, not to fall asleep in some cozy corner. The librarian may depart for the Bahamas, taking the keys with her, and you might not emerge until Christmas break is over.

  • Try wearing a Grim Reaper outfit to a coffee shop.

  • Write in a cemetery. There, you may weep over your characters' sorrows, and no one will disturb you.

  • Don't bathe for a month so that you fit the image of a real writer. Sometimes we look--and smell--normal, so no one takes our need for solitude seriously. Do this, and they will.

  • If all else fails and deadlines loom, you can get arrested. And with a little extra effort, you can achieve solitary confinement.

Hopefully, these suggestions have paved the way for your success. If so, please consider contributing money for my bail, as I've met my deadline and don't like the food here.

-Rachael Phillips-


  1. As an empty nester who is trying to write full-time, there is nothing like summer to make me appreciate those days when my teacher-husband is out of the house at work. This week he decided to clean out the kitchen cupboards, and he says he HAS to listen to the radio while he works. Unfortunately, there are no solid doors between the kitchen and my office. How many days until school starts again?

  2. Rachael, this is hilarious! Nicely done.

    Kathryn, simple solution: Imagine how lonely it would be if he was not there at all -- permanently. Whenever I start to get annoyed with my wife coming into the office while I'm writing, I simply try to imagine my life without her ... suddenly I'm grateful for those interruptions.

  3. Hilarious, clever and timely! AMAZING writing. Love it.

  4. Thanks, all! As an empty-nester with a husband who, for the first time in 35 years, is not working 14-15 hours a day, I'm learning to enjoy having him around a lot. And, of course, he's getting used to me [wicked smile].

  5. I smile (Rachael, you are a riot!) as I sit in the middle of two dogs (one a puppy) and 4 college boys living at home and one husband who demands my attention and comes into my space saying, "I'm hungry! SG now!" (*SG=something good)

    I have no easy answers except that it seems to me that it was easier when the boys were younger. There's always something and nothing is ever "ideal" for the long run (maybe a week at a local hotel)

    I'm considering writing in my closet behind my cowgirl boots.

  6. Maybe if you play nonstop Barry Manilow music--I read about a 7-Eleven that did that in the parking lot, and they never had to worry about loiterers again.

    Of course, there's always switching to health food only. That might do the trick.

  7. The bomb shelter! There's an idea!

  8. We bought a '60s house. Maybe there's one under the garden.