As journalists, we don’t always get to choose our writing circumstances. We write at home, at our office desk, at press conferences and ballgames. We write at a phone while dictating back to an editor. We write on airplanes, in press boxes, at city council meetings. It may be the quiet of midnight with no one around; you could be surrounded by shouting schoolchildren.
It seems a bit greedy to wish for perfect conditions in addition to a job we all love.
Nevertheless, Maria Popova’s collection of writers’ habits on her site, brainpickings.com, is enlightening. She draws from a 1994 book called “The Psychology of Writing,” by Ronald T. Kellogg, as well as the experiences of many well-known writers.
As you might imagine, they are all over the map, from writers who say they can work anywhere to those, like Thomas Mann, who insisted on a wicker chair out in the open near a beach. (Good grief!)
Kellogg notes that some people can write in a crowded bus and that others find a slowly dripping faucet in the other room maddening. It has to do with the ability to tune out distractions rather than the nature of the distraction itself. There is research to suggest that working in one- to three-hour blocks, and in the mornings, may be most conducive to creative work. That certainly is my experience. …
Researchers also suggest that some writers work most profitably in a ritualized environment. In the same way a batter goes through the same movements before stepping into the batter’s box, it is necessary for some writers to work at the same time, to get coffee first, to make sure their desk is clean or cluttered.
Writing is a creative pursuit, obviously, and the process will remain a mystery. Perhaps, that is what makes it so darn seductive.