When I started out, I wrote on the kitchen table. The amount of time spent clearing a space, and then tidying everything away, ate into my writing time. Not to mention wiping off the marmalade that transferred itself to every available piece of paper. I graduated from the kitchen to a shared office with my husband, which wasn’t ideal as he was a lot untidier than me. Eventually, after moving house (and husbands) I finally had an office of my own, and I began to think about what makes the ideal writing space.
Some people can write to music; I can’t. I have to have silence. I live in a big semi, and to begin with I was downstairs on the side that abutted next door. They have three children, who have now reached screaming age. The party wall is extremely thin, and the fireplaces use the same chimney which seems to act as a sound box. I am fortunate enough to have a studio as well, which is also downstairs and on the other side of the house and a lot smaller, so I decided to up sticks and relocate. It’s been a revelation.
I feel more secure in a small space. It’s an evolutionary thing, I think; it’s less likely that a sabretooth will creep up on me from behind. I also had no idea that extraneous sound affected me quite that much, I thought I could write anywhere. The view from the window is back gardens rather than the street, so it’s really tranquil and I no longer have the traffic piling up outside during the rush hour. I can concentrate. It’s quite a high window so I have to stand up to watch the birds, but that’s good because otherwise I’d be twitching all day.
The main problem was getting an internet connection. I look things up all the time –gone are the days when I travelled up to the Natural History Museum to use their library. My husband, an IT consultant, works at home most of the time. He had the cable connection, and I used the wireless link. It wouldn’t work consistently in my new office – in fact, most of the time it wouldn’t work at all due to the number intervening walls. I tried a powerline adaptor, a signal booster, I even trailed a cable through the house which was a lot of work and looked rubbish. Eventually Lidl, bless them, stocked a range extender. It was inexpensive, plugs into an electric socket and has worked like a treat ever since.
The next issue was heating. The radiator was an old-fashioned one, and even though the room is small it didn’t heat it effectively. Eventually our central heating guy asked me why I had a dinosaur in my office, and I had it replaced. It is much more efficient, and has made an extraordinary difference. I don’t think I’d realised how much being cold affected my ability to work.
And then there’s the furniture. Despite the ease of the internet, I do have a lot of reference books in my office and organising them in an accessible way was also important. Ikea’s shelving system is ideal, and you can cut the units down to make them fit perfectly. I still use a stand-alone computer, rather than a laptop, as I need a large screen and the two-in-one job is ideal. I’ve also gone over to Samsung for everything so that all my technology is compatible.
The important thing is not to give yourself any excuses for going off and doing something else, instead of writing. So my recipe is as follows:
Silence, internet connection, heating, shelving. And lots of cups of tea. What’s yours?
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