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.