Most writers I know have fantasized about the perfect place to write. Sometimes it comes from a misguided notion that if we had a dream writing place, we would produce great writing. Other times, the fantasy is generated by learning about some other writer’s amazing workplace, whether it be a high-rise writing loft with a view of the Empire State Building, or a sunroom overlooking the ocean. Recently, I heard about George Bernard Shaw’s writing shed, which rotated on a turntable so that he could change his view whenever he wanted!
I’m very lucky because, while my home is just a humble cabin in the Tahoe forest, what I see out the window directly in front of my desk is a king’s view of trees and sky and mountains. And directly above my desk are skylights letting in the sun, the moon, and the stars. The other day, a Red Tailed Hawk landed on a branch outside my window. He groomed himself for an hour while the Stellers Jays screamed and dive-bombed him. A wonderful dose of nature is invigorating. But is it also a distraction?
Stephen King says that writers shouldn’t have a grand desk and beautiful view because they just distract from the job. A small desk under a stairwell is more suited to staying focused. Last week, I had an opportunity to test his concept.
I needed some auto work done, and there was no shop in the Tahoe Basin that could do the job. It would take two days in another city. I figured I could drive down out of the mountains, check into a hotel the night before, and drop off the vehicle in the morning. I would bring my bike with me so I could ride back to the hotel. At the end of the following day, I could ride back to pick up the vehicle. I would come back up the mountain the following morning. Three nights, two full days in between (minus the bike rides), and partial days on either end.
What would I do with my time? My options were to go for walks or explore the city’s parks or channel surf at the hotel, always an unusual experience for a guy who hasn’t had a TV for 35 years. (Don’t worry, I do watch movies from Netflix and the occasional Youtube video, so I’m not completely disconnected from reality. Just mostly.)
After considering my options to spend three days away, I decided it was the perfect time to get some writing done while waiting for the shop to do their thing.
So I went to Priceline and found one of those cheap extended stay places.
Why was it cheap? Because it had no restaurant, nor was there one close across the street. The hotel had no swimming pool, no view, no exercise room, no business center where you could print documents, no in-room coffee maker, no daily maid service. In short, this place had nothing to recommend it except that it was clean, quiet, had a microwave and fridge, a work table, a nice shower, and a firm bed. For a writer in sequester finishing up my next book, it was perfect.
I brought my laptop and a cooler with food. I ignored the hotel Wi-Fi, planning to do nothing but write. My bike rides from and to the auto shop would be enough exercise (9 miles each way), so I needed no walks.
So I sat at the little hotel table and wrote. Periodically, I stood up to stretch and pace the floor while working out a plot point. I ate my breakfast, lunch, and dinner while I worked on my laptop. Except for the bike rides, I worked from when I woke up until I went to bed. In the middle of the first two nights, I couldn’t sleep, too many thoughts of my novel circling in my head. So I got up and wrote from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m., then went back to bed.
Other than phone calls and emails to my wife, I communicated with no one.
My room was on the first floor, with a sidewalk out my window. I didn’t want the passersby to watch me (and distract me) as I typed at my little table. That would feel a bit like one of those performance art pieces with a writer typing away in a department store display window. So I kept the drapes shut. I had no daylight except when I was on my bike.
Would this suit other writers? Maybe not. Working in a darkish hotel room for two full days and part of two more with no light other than the spiral tube fluorescent bulbs and the laptop screen might seem like being sent to a prison that was built inside a cave.
But that’s not the way it seemed to me. In fact, it was perfect. I wasn’t in a hotel cave at all. I was up on Tahoe’s mountains navigating a snowstorm, then I was in a boat out on the lake, then I was chasing a psychopath through the night, then I was having a gourmet dinner with witty repartee out on a deck above the lake. I got to travel, send Spot on a body search, drink wine with Street, solve a philosophical conundrum with Sergeant Diamond Martinez.
During my hotel confinement, I wrote maybe 30 pages and spent the entire time imagining and experiencing the fictional life of Detective Owen McKenna, which, frankly, is a hundred times more exciting than my real life.
Lots of people think writing is hard.
I - and many writers like me - know the truth. Writing can transport you out of any circumstances into the time and place and company of your choice.
Stephen King was right. You don’t need a great writing place. A dark hotel room will do the job. Writers are fortunate that, unlike nearly any other job, they can write even when they’re stuck in another city waiting for vehicle work. The perfect writing space in is your head, wherever you may be.
In fact, writing is such a sweet job, it shouldn’t even be called a job. I’m a lucky guy, and I know it.