Sunlight? Healthy food? Socializing? A writer needs not these things. Give me a dark room, a pot of coffee, a bottle of half-decent wine, and a bag of gummi bears, and I’ll churn out a book in a couple of weeks. I might even bathe once or twice. Right?
Not necessarily. When I read Chris Marie Green’s post on Life in a Cave, I nodded my head. A lot. In an ideal world, I would go into my office and write for so long that my neck bones would fuse. But my life is not ideal, and so I wanted to flip the coin and discuss life outside of the Writing Cave. The thing is, many people wait for ideal circumstances to write their first book. You’ll have enough money to quit work, you’ll have the perfect office/cave, you’ll have plenty of time. And if you wait for those circumstances to come to fruition, that book will never be written.
Many books, especially first books, are written in stolen moments, and you can’t always choose where those moments will happen.
Truth is, I do most of my writing outside of my home. With one child in second grade and one in pre-K, I have a ton of driving to do and can’t just sit at home in my pajamas. And for me, being pushed out of my comfort zone is a great thing. When I wake up in the morning and get my kids ready for school, I daydream about what I’ll be writing that day. After they’re both dropped off, I go to a local cafe or coffee shop, order something that’ll make me happy, put in my earbuds, and start writing. Because I’m not at home, I’m not looking at dishes that need to be done or carpet that needs to be vacuumed or a dog who needs to be walked. I’m fully dressed, I’m set-up like a professional, and I feel that I’m at work and must be working. This time is precious to me, both for work’s sake and for my own sanity. My writing is a job, yes, but it’s also a treat, when no one else can interrupt or intrude my stream of consciousness. The coffee (and, um, Lavender Earl Grey macarons) power me to churn out as much work as I can before the energy-sapping noise and responsibility of parenthood and home ownership drag me back down.
There are other benefits to writing outside of your cave– or comfort zone. For me, I do better work when I’m clean and dressed and wearing shoes. I have better posture, I feel more awake and alive, and my brain feels more nimble. Seeing friends, overhearing conversations, and having more visual stimuli than my own belongings helps my brain to expand, to see new options, and to describe settings and characters in more interesting ways. If I’m at home, I tend to choose easy junk foods that don’t take time away from writing, whereas if I’m out, I’ll order something healthy for me that will power my body and mind. And there’s also the aspect of a ticking clock: if I only have 2 hours until pick-up, then I need to use those hours to the best of my ability and write as much as possible.
I also find that editing goes faster outside of my home. I do my line edits on actual paper with a pen, and it can be very, very tiring to pay such attention to every single word. If I’m at home in pajamas, I tend to zone out and tire easily. But if I’m out in public sitting in front of a stack of crisp papers at a table with people walking around and staring at me, it imbues me with a sense of importance and keeps me focused.
Am I saying a Writing Cave is bad? LORD, NO. I have one, I use it, I’m in it now, and you’ll see me using hashtag #EditCave whenever I’m at home, slogging through big revisions. But I think it’s important for writers to know that a cave is by no means a necessity, and that even if you have one, you must do yourself the favor of leaving it every now and then to jumpstart your brain. At the very least, a twenty-minute walk in the sunshine or a swim in the pool can be the best way to see new solutions to problems and improve blood flow. And to avoid costly chiropractic problems.
Delilah S. Dawson is the author of the steampunk paranormal romance Blud series from Pocket including three books, three e-novellas, and a short story in the Carniepunk anthology. Her first YA, a creepy paranormal about demons and Savannah called Servants of the Storm, is out in 2014. Find her online at www.delilahsdawson.com and on Twitter, @DelilahSDawson.