Virginia Woolf famously insisted that in order to write professionally a woman must have "a room of her own." Yet French author Nathalie Sarraute chose to write in a neighborhood café--same time, same table every morning. "It is a neutral place," she said, "and no one disturbs me--there is no telephone." Novelist Margaret Drabble prefers writing in a hotel room, where she can be alone and uninterrupted for days at a time.
Where is the best place for writing? Along with at least a modicum of talent and something to say, writing requires concentration--and that usually demands isolation. In his book On Writing, Stephen King offers some practical advice:
If possible, there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there's a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall. For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it's wise to eliminate every possible distraction.
But in this Twittering age, eliminating distractions can be quite a challenge.
Unlike Marcel Proust, for example, who wrote from midnight to dawn in a cork-lined room, most of us have no choice but to write wherever and whenever we can. And should we be lucky enough to find a little free time and a secluded spot, life still has a habit of interfering.
As Annie Dillard found out while trying to write the second half of her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, even a study carrel in a library may supply distractions--especially if that little room has a window.
On the flat roof just outside the window, sparrows pecked gravel. One of the sparrows lacked a leg; one was missing a foot. If I stood and peered around, I could see a feeder creek run at the edge of a field. In the creek, even from that great distance, I could see muskrats and snapping turtles. If I saw a snapping turtle, I ran downstairs and out of the library to watch it or poke it.
(The Writing Life, Harper & Row, 1989)
To eliminate such pleasant diversions, Dillard finally drew a sketch of the view outside the window and then "shut the blinds one day for good" and taped the sketch onto the blinds. "If I wanted a sense of the world," she said, "I could look at the stylized outline drawing." Only then was she able to finish her book.
So where is the best place to write?
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, thinks that Nathalie Sarraute had the right idea:
It's no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café. You don't have to make your own coffee, you don't have to feel like you're in solitary confinement and if you have writer's block, you can get up and walk to the next café while giving your batteries time to recharge and brain time to think. The best writing café is crowded enough to where you blend in, but not too crowded that you have to share a table with someone else.
(interviewed by Heather Riccio in HILLARY Magazine)
Not everyone agrees of course. Thomas Mann preferred writing in a wicker chair by the sea. Corinne Gerson wrote novels under the hair dryer in a beauty shop. William Thackeray, like Drabble, chose to write in hotel rooms. And Jack Kerouac wrote the novel Doctor Sax in a toilet in William Burroughs' apartment.
My favorite answer to this question was suggested by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith: