Written by A Guest Author September 27th, 2018

Finding Productive Space for Writing

By Tina Jenkins Bell                     

Last summer as I worked on the edits for the last few sections of my novel, I needed an alternative to my home office–sans environmental distractions and personal interruptions, like “baby, would yous” from my husband–as I dashed toward ‘The End’. I knew I needed to find a spot suitable for completing daily writing goals.

My first relocation attempt was a well-loved, regional library. The day I want, the library was doubling as an “academic-exploration” summer camp and filled with kids. No worries. I planned to avoid their rambunctious antics in the writer’s room, usually designated for quiet contemplation and artistic productivity… just not that day. A  neighborhood lawyer had set up shop to vigorously and loudly counsel people on various matters. The security guards, too, buzzed with gossip about their supervisor and their weekend plans. My constant throat clearing didn’t dissuade the lawyer or the security guards.

Another day, I picked a small coffee house that had been the perfect location a few days earlier when I met a friend there for coffee in the afternoon. When I returned around 11:00 a.m., the place was filled with neighborhood parents and babies, who convened there Monday through Friday mornings for the same reason I sought an alternative to my home office—seeking the dynamics of other people and escaping the boredom of eight hours in one place with an unchanging forecast.

 Another well-known franchise coffee house, known for their 100-proof caffeinated drinks was an excellent office after 6:00 p.m. but became the daytime bar, serving luscious lattes instead of  mixed drinks during the day. I had to stuff my ears with plugs to avoid being the third wheel or overtures, like “You come here often.” These experiences taught me to vet or identify my best writing space before going, by:

  1. Getting recommendations from friends who will know places as well as best times and days.
  2. Calling ahead to ask venue staff about their downtimes when activity is low but still dynamic. Sci-fi writer Aurelius Raines II gets his writing done at 24-hour cafes where he can produce and people watch during breaks.
  3. Getting creative. Author of The River Where Blood Is Born and Hot Johnny (And the Women Who Loved Him) Sandra Jackson-Opoku needs longer escapes from her home office–where everyone knows where to reach her, and will. Jackson-Opoku competes for and schedules several writer’s residencies, which offer private working space, support services, access to a network of fellow writer-retreaters from across the globe, and travel to retreats in Africa, China, and various U.S. states.
  4. Considering artist incubators or co-working spaces. These spaces require monthly rents or membership fees, between $850 to $700 per office (depending on the city) and half of those fees for solely desk space. They also offer shared resources like receptionist, phone services, excellent Wi-fi, office equipment, access to conference rooms and presentation media. (Note: some libraries offer similar semi-private work spaces and conferences that you can reserve.)
  5. Taking turns with other writers, hosting salons or write-ins. These are excellent alternatives to working alone and can include critiques of produced work. (Note: make sure there is an understanding that at least 85% of the time will be used constructively. That leaves 15% for critiques and socializing.)
  6. Qualifying my needs. I may need “monk” space for creating, but poet and academic Dr. Tara Betts only needs earphones, a comfortable, supportive seat, excellent Wi-Fi, and access to snacks.

Some writers, like Associate English Professor and fiction writer Dr. Janice Tuck Lively, enjoy writing among nature, like forest preserves or botanic gardens. Others find secluded spots at cultural venues, like museums, galleries, aquariums, and castles. These venues come with entrance fees (although buying a yearly pass to one can make it affordable) and the entertainment factor may be a drawback.

Still, Swarm Theory author Chris Maul Rice is a proponent of the BIS (Butts in Seat) factor, “I’m a curmudgeon and have very specific writing habits and times, so I rarely work outside of my home.” Like Rice, I discovered writing space alternatives are great, but for me nothing surpassed planting my BIS–wherever the location–until I met my goal.

Bio: Tina Jenkins Bell writes fiction, plays, and feature articles, focusing on culture and cultural icons. Her most recent work, a mini memoir entitled Devil’s Alley will appear in the Love in a Silent Storm anthology (2019). Finding the Good Boy, Yummy was recently published in They Said, an anthology of collaborative and hybrid writing, and The Last Supper appeared in Revise the Psalm: Work Celebrating the Writing of Gwendolyn Brooks. As mentioned in the article, Bell just completed the edits for her novel, Mud Pies. 


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