The Writing Life: Life Outside the Cave


delilahauthorpicSunlight? 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.

In short, you can have your cave and leave it, too. 🙂  ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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 and on Twitter, @DelilahSDawson.


11 comments to The Writing Life: Life Outside the Cave

  • Delilah, it has been such fun having you here this month! Getting out of our comfort zones is a grand thing, but not easy for some of us. I’m one of the writers who has a difficult time writing out of comfort zone. Rewriting and editing I can do anywhere, but the first creative draft? Not so much. The Hubs and I have an RV and travel everywhere during kayak paddling season. This season looks to be a big travel time because all the rain and snow will result in big white water. And I have to find some spark in me that can write in a bouncing, jouncing truck on back roads. We’ve talked about the necessary setup, the required ability to back up files, and my need for a full sized keyboard instead of a laptop keyboard. I envy people who can do that first draft anywhere … Okay, I hate them, but it’s probably the same thing.

  • Ken

    Hi there Delilah.

    Thanks so much for hanging out with us here this month. I confess to being one of those folks that has a real problem with getting out of the cave. If given the chance, I’d totally go full out hermit and you remind me that stepping out your door every once in a while is a good thing 🙂

    I’ll have to give that a try…possibly


  • Good advice!
    And I speak from experience…it’s best learn to work outside the cave before you’re forced to by some family emergency or another. xox

  • I have to admit that I work poorly when away from my home office. I can do it, and when crunch time hits, I am able to push myself to produce no matter where I am. But I am happiest by far when writing at home, at my desk, with all my familiar stuff around me. Over the years, I’ve gotten good at blocking out the homestead distractions (mostly), and I thrive on my routine. For me, my little cave really is the best environment. I wish I was as adaptable as you are, Delilah, but I haven’t perfected that particular art just yet.

    Thanks for the great posts this month. It’s been a pleasure having you here.

  • Thank you, Delilah. This is so me. The laundry mocks me. Sometimes the dishes do, too … and they’re DH’s job! A lot of my writing is in stolen moments, too. On the bus and Skytrain. On my lunch hour. Most days. I really should leave the house next time I wake early, seriously.

  • Great to see another view on the cave. I have mixed feelings–generally I’m a stay-at-home person, but I’ve found that I tend to identify my home as the “place to crash from the day job.” This means that sometimes it’s hard to get started writing because when I sit down at my desk or on my couch, my brain thinks it’s time to shut down and/or play. I’ve never really had much success writing elsewhere, but I think I might give it a try.

  • sagablessed

    Yup. First and second works were done outside the cave. Third and fourth likewise. I would love to say that my ‘flesh-outs’ came there, but character development happens inconveniently: the tub, at work, at the Dr. I don’t know many writers who have an actual cave, but it sounds wonderful.
    Warm hands/ warm face/ typing a mean streak….wouldn’t it…be loverly.

  • Razziecat

    Thank you for pointing out that books can be written in stolen moments! I’d love to have an office-type set-up for nothing but writing, but in a small house that’s not really an option; and I need the day job, so evenings and weekends at the dining room table must suffice. I’ve caught myself thinking, “No REAL writer does it this way!” but that’s really not true. 😉

    I can’t write at the coffee shop, though. Much too noisy and busy, even with headphones on.

  • quillet

    I’m like David: I need to be in my own space with my own stuff — and preferably wearing noise-cancelling headphones. I’ve always envied people who can write in cafes, because it seems so cool. I get visions in my head of cafes in Paris, where the cool writers hang out. 😉 But I can’t do it myself, I always end up people-watching instead of working.

    I’ve heard stories (possibly apocryphal) of writers who worked at their kitchen tables for years until they could finally afford their dream study, only to discover that they couldn’t write in that “perfect” space. Instead, they take their notebook or laptop to the … kitchen table to write. So yeah, the cave isn’t necessarily necessary!

  • My first out of the cave writing experience was at my son’s bedside in the hospital. It sounds horrid, but it was a Good Thing. I learned then that I can write anywhere, and while we might all claim that writing is our escape from real life, sometimes it really is – and sometimes it really does save your sanity.

  • Lyn, I wrote about half of the book that nabbed my agent while I was waiting for my husband to have surgery and wake up afterward. Writing made the time go significantly faster!