There comes a point in every freelance writer’s career where he simply can’t take it any more.
Unless he’s leaving the house to conduct first-hand research, he’s seeing the same things all day, every day. The place where he works during the day is 20 feet from the place where he lounges at night.
It’s the same kitchen, the same bathroom, the same everything, every day.
It’s enough to make anyone go a little nuts.
All freelancers, at some point or another, deal with cabin fever. We just need to get out of the house, no matter where the destination. The seasoned vets among us might plan for these bouts in advance, scheduling days where they can get away and not fall behind on work.
Those with less experience — which, make no mistake, is a large portion of us — probably need to keep working in order to pay the bills.
The solution, then, is to pack up our work and haul it elsewhere. And so we stuff our trusty laptops into bags and take our work to another environment. That’s productive. It means we’re taking a proactive approach to an unavoidable problem.
Yet not all writing environments are created equal. In my years of freelancing I’ve tried many of them and have found the ups and downs with each.
Here are the official recommendations.
Where Not to Write
If you plan to have a full, productive day out of your home office, you’d do best to avoid these places.
What, exactly, about a coffee shop screams productive environment? People are moving in and out constantly. There are usually many others occupying seats and tables. During busy times, you might not even be able to find a seat.
People yap on their phones. People talk amongst themselves. Music you don’t control plays on the PA.
There is nothing productive about working from a coffee shop.
If you want to simply get out of the house and take a break, coffee shops can provide an excellent outlet. You can actually interact with baristas and perhaps even other patrons. You can get a hot, stimulating beverage, or maybe even a pastry if you’re into indulging yourself. You can even focus on something unrelated to your work — I used to bring a journal and empty my brain at a local Starbucks.
But working? I think not.
In an environment that promotes distraction, you’ll likely get nothing done. If you do get anything done, it’s not done as well as it could be. That means you’re at the same place as when you started, only with fewer hours to get everything completed.
(If you can’t tell, I’m pretty passionate about not working in coffee shops.)
Your friends might say they understand that you work from home. No, they say, they know that you have to get work done.
Then in the next breath, they’re asking for a ride somewhere or for you to do them a favor. You know, because you don’t go to work.
It takes considerable willpower and strong consideration of the consequences to avoid strangling them for this offense.
Unless your friends also work from home, they do not understand. Your girlfriend or boyfriend do not understand. So unless they’re absent while you work in their apartment just to change the scenery, avoid this situation.
Working solo might get lonely; in fact, it will certainly get lonely, perhaps painfully so. But sidling up to friends and significant others during working hours helps zero.
Just to be clear, your parents’ house is an equally bad choice.
I wouldn’t even mention this had it not come to my attention that people actually try to work in the park.
The thought process is understandable. It’s nice outside! I have wireless internet! Let’s go to the park and write! Truthfully, the thought has occurred to me also at times.
It’s typically followed by a facepalm.
If you thought coffee shops were distracting, parks are doubly, maybe triply so. You know how people in offices lament their daytime imprisonment when it’s nice outside? That’s probably healthy. They’re at work for a reason, after all.
If you’re escaping your office for the glory of outdoor writing, you’re probably going to find yourself so distracted by the pretty surroundings that no work gets done.
Also, have you ever tried to use a computer in any kind of sunlight? Unless you have superhuman typing accuracy, it just doesn’t work. Case in point.
Where to Write
“Geez, Joe, you’re such a downer.” Yeah, I get that a lot. But I’m not done yet. Now that I’ve shared my opinion on the worst places to write, I’d like to share some of the more serene environments I’ve enjoyed for top results.
Who doesn’t love the library? No friend of mine, I can assure you. Libraries are wonderful repositories of books and other information. Anyone with a curious streak can spend hours searching for, well, anything that fancies her.
Libraries also make wonderful work environments. Why the library? Glad you asked. Here’s a quick lists of a library’s virtues for a writer.
- It’s quiet. Not only that, but you can actually tell people to shut up if they’re being too loud. It’s your right. The library is supposed to be quiet.
- You can face the wall. I’ve never been to a library that didn’t have work stations. Set yourself in one of them, and you’re looking right at the wall. There is no better way to eliminate distractions than by turning your back to them.
- They’re free. There’s no need to buy anything, as there is in a coffee shop. You just walk in and set up, even if you don’t have a library card. (But you should get one. Just saying.)
- They’re full of information. Need some secondary research? It just so happens that you’re surrounded by material. Use as much of it as you need or want.
If you need to get out of the house to work, by all means, choose the library.
Truman Capote used to do his best writing in motels rooms, or at least that’s what Stephen King tells us in On Writing.
There is certainly some merit to escaping traditional writing environments completely. A hotel room brings something old, yet something new. There’s a writing desk, but it’s not yours. The same goes for the bed, the bathroom, the TV, and everything else. It might appear familiar in superficial ways, but it’s really not.
The downside, of course, is the cost. Sure, you can find cheap hotels on travel sites, but that still costs a chunk of change. The only way it makes sense is if two conditions are true:
- You have a time-sensitive project.
- You are on the verge of breakdown.
Unless you’re independently wealthy — and how many copywriters do you know who can say that? — a hotel is a considerable cost. Most times it’s not justifiable. But that doesn’t make it any worse a writing environment. The familiar but different environment might be just what you need to beat cabin fever.
And if you’re not getting any work done at home, then you’re not making any money there either. Getting out might just unblock your productivity and bring in cash.
Like this idea? Try making nice with the owner of a nearby hotel or motel. Maybe if you write him some marketing copy, he’ll let you use a vacant room from time to time.
Unfortunately, this pretty much covers the list of places I’ve productively written. There just aren’t many places you can go where 1) there won’t be any distractions, and 2) you won’t have to pay a considerable fee.
That makes public libraries the hands-down best place to get work done outside your home. If you need the break, by all means take it at the library.
As for coffee shops, friends’ houses, and public parks, there’s just too great a risk involved. Yes, working there means you’re not working at home, and for many people that’s the most important part.
But it’s also important to get our work done. In a public, distracting setting, that’s just not possible. It sounds ideal, but in reality, it’s anything but.
Of course, these are just my experiences. Surely other writers have other places where they’ve realized success. What are your favorite places to write? Which places do you recommend people avoid?