Writing Conditions

While the rest of the country deals with copious amounts of rain and snow, the Pacific Northwest is experiencing an unusually warm and dry winter. Most Portlanders react with joy at the news of another sunny day and rush outside to take advantage of the area’s many parks, hiking trails, and rivers.

However, I greet the lovely weather with gloom inside. For me, pleasant sunny weather is not ideal writing weather. Give me a stormy, windy day – rain lashing at the windows, wind rattling the panes, and clouds hovering over the city. I want to write without feeling the tug of nice weather calling me out to play.

The non-ideal writing weather got me thinking about writing conditions in general. Which lead me to ponder what my perfect writing space would look and feel like. I recognized it’s not just one space that’s ideal. Sometimes I’m drawn towards the idea of a tower room – lots of windows (to let in fresh air and fresh ideas), a large writing desk with the perfect chair (comfy body equals clear mind), a couch for pondering my character’s next move (also called napping), and several whiteboards for jotting down plot points I want to refer to later.  At other times, a crowded place – a coffee shop, the airport, or a park – sounds just right. Excellent for watching people and eavesdropping on conversations.

In addition, the dishes must done, the house must be tidy, the laundry must be in progress, and the cats must be quiet. Should I write early in the morning before work or on the weekends? Should I write in ninety-minute increments or until the chapter is complete? Should I work on the logical next scene in the story or the climactic scene swirling around in my head? Should I…well you get the idea. Writing is often a conundrum of where, when, and how.

If it’s such a struggle to write, why do I bother? Why spend a lot of my free time on an anxiety-ridden pursuit? I don’t have a very profound reason, in fact, it’s simple – I like telling stories. Not only do I relish building the narrative and characters but I also enjoy the craft of writing – what is the best way to express joy or sadness, what is the cleverest way to show a character’s inner conflict, or how do I foreshadow without revealing too much? Who gets the chop? Who gets to fall in love? Who gets to reveal their darkest emotions? Where does the story begin? Where does the story end?

When I do finally sit down and write, my reward is in those sublime moments when I read a snippet of a chapter or scene and think, “Damn, that’s good! Who wrote this?” Then I remember I did and it makes me smile.

Ultimately, the perfect writing conditions aren’t external – if the story is going well I don’t need the perfect chair or right weather. I just need to sit my butt down and write.

As I finish this article rain has moved back into Portland. I draw a deep breath, feeling my shoulders relax.

Now where’s my pen and paper?

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, the first novel in the Dormant trilogy. The second book, Root, will be out later this year.


LeeAnn Elwood McLennan 05 Color (2)



Filed under books, life, musings, writing

12 responses to “Writing Conditions

  1. A lovely piece — thank you. And in the “nice weather is in the eye of the beholder” department: a friend was teaching English as a Second Language (as it was called then), to students in the Ivory Coast, West Africa. One of the kids’ compositions began, “It was a beautiful day today. The sun was not shining.”

  2. Great post – it all sounds familiar! When there is a nice day, I try to grab a notebook and pen and sit outside to write well, at least something!

  3. Oh, my yes. I need perfect writing conditions inside and out to write fiction. Haven’t had either for a very long time! But I can blog any time, anywhere, under any condition. And I do. Try and stop me!

  4. LeeAnn, I loved this post! I have an office with a window overlooking the back yard. A bird feeder is just a few feet beyond that window, hanging from a bottlebrush tree. On a beautiful sunny day like today, I like to step out to enjoy my morning coffee and greet the birds. They’re used to seeing me now, and I like to pretend they are gathering to hear what I’ll read to them this time. It’s a natural encouragement to write.
    On a rainy or blustery day, I’m focused in a different way, more inwardly, but when the weather changes, I can share once more with my feathered friends. Either condition suits me just fine. As for the housework and the barking dog down the street, that’s just plain distraction. 🙂

  5. Lovely post. We did so need the rain. I’ll write any time any place when the story is flowing. When it’s not, I’m usually reading… Or house working, yard working, family working, etc.

  6. “In addition, the dishes must done, the house must be tidy, the laundry must be in progress, and the cats must be quiet.” I’d never get a word written if I had to wait for those conditions, lol! I especially like this paragraph: “When I do finally sit down and write, my reward is in those sublime moments when I read a snippet of a chapter or scene and think, “Damn, that’s good! Who wrote this?” Then I remember I did and it makes me smile.” It reminds me of that Stephen King quote, “When the work is the best work, it’s more like being a secretary than it is a creative person, you just sort of take the stuff down.” Don’t you LOVE that feeling?

  7. Wonderful post, LeeAnn. My biggest barrier is to have my psychic house in order more so than my physical home. I look forward to having that one day. 🙂

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