Writer’s Block: Is It Because You’re Writing In The Wrong Environment?

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop

Flit Whaite photo by Sarah TauntonWriter’s block” has become a catch-all term for any reason that writers find themselves unmotivated and stymied, staring at a blank page or empty screen. The best piece of advice for anyone suffering from writer’s block is this:

Stop waiting for inspiration and just start writing. You have to “prime the pump,” then inspiration will catch up.

Other than that, you should consider if your writing location is hurting you. Let’s look at some common places people write. There is no “right or wrong” — you must consider your history and search your heart to find out which environments are best for you. So rather than just blindly do what you’ve always done, take this chance to think about where you are most likely to write well:

Writing At The Office

A photo of Bobby Gilles's office. Everything is just where he wants it ... even his unusable antique Underwood Standard typewriter

I love my office at Sojourn Church. Everything is just where I want it ... even my unusable antique Underwood Standard typewriter

Those of us who write for an employer can often do so from an office or cubicle they provide. And those of us who have “normal” jobs but write on the side can often do so from our office as well, arriving to work early, staying late and writing at lunch or any other break. I have been in both circumstances, and either way I love writing in an office building.

I’m comfortable, but unlike my house, not too comfortable. The hustle and bustle of office workers, the equipment, the desks, the people wearing something other than pajamas — it all creates an energy that flows through me.

And it helps to dress the part. We have a relaxed dress code at Sojourn, and I do wear jeans most days. But I almost always pair them up with a dressier shirt and often a sportcoat or suit jacket. If that doesn’t sound like you, don’t sweat it. The point is to figure out what puts you into the mood to write.

Writing At A Coffee Shop

The problem with coffee shops is that you may be interrupted more than at work, if you visit a shop where other patrons know you well. At work, people realize you’re working. At a coffee shop, even if you are working people often assume you’re not that busy. Because, well, you’re sitting in a coffee shop.

I schedule meetings for coffee shops (my favorite in Louisville is Quills Coffee & Books). And occasionally I work in one if I’m doing a project that won’t be hurt by stops-and-starts. Then if I see a friend, I don’t have to act like I don’t see them. I’m free to chat. But I rarely attempt serious writing in a coffee shop unless I’m in an unfamiliar town. Maybe your situation is different. Ask yourself if you do more writing, conversing or reading at coffee shops.

Lake Waban, Wellesley College photo by Soe Lin

Some of you would write in a setting like this. Others would just go frolicking about ...

Writing In The Great Outdoors

At some point you office types and homebodies will meet someone who says:

Why not write with the sun and a gentle breeze on your face, near songbirds in the trees, and the rippling waters of a pond, stream or river?

This will sound good to you so you’ll do it. Then, it will be really hot, or cold. Or ants will climb all over you and flies will dive-bomb your head. A creepy guy from the woods will keep staring at you, a child will accidentally(?) hit you in the head with a baseball, and a cloudburst will soak you, your Moleskine journal or your high-priced laptop.

Okay, I’m loading the deck here. I do enjoy the outdoors, although I go outside when I need to clear my head and sort my thoughts rather than when I need to write. If writing outside sounds interesting to you, try it. But think about the possibilities and find a good spot where you’ll be undisturbed.

Also think about how much you love the outdoors — are you going to be so distracted by the beauty of a lazy river that you end up daydreaming? Creative minds need their daydreams, but this post is about the time you use to write, to produce, to work.

Writing At Home

Some writers swear by it. They say that writing at home gives them the freedom to wear what they want, to take a break when they want, and to write undisturbed (these are people who don’t have children in the house during writing sessions, or a spouse or roommate watching American Idol with the volume turned to 11).

Compare your productivity at home with elsewhere. And this is what it comes down to, no matter which setting you’ve used till now or which you prefer. Where do you write more? And where are you more apt to write the good stuff? The stuff that makes you say “This is why I’m a writer. I’ve hit my mark here.”

I’ve known writers who prefer one setting or another, but they don’t write anything. They prefer coffee shops because they like coffee. And talking to their would-be writer friends who are also spending too much time talking and not enough time writing. Or they like writing at home because a chunk of their “writing” time goes to looking in the fridge and seeing what’s on TV.

Find a setting where your surroundings energize and comfort rather than distract. Then get busy.

 Top photo by Sarah Taunton, used via Creative Commons license

Second photo by me, Bobby Gilles. Since it’s my own office. 

Bottom photo by Soe Lin, used via Creative Commons license

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