Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Fourth "W"

The first three, of course, are who, what and when.

I am often told that setting is the soul of a novel. But what of the setting of writing of the novel? How important is location for the author? There are writers whose writing studio, garage office, garret apartment or table at the cafe are as important to their work as the gardens of Giverny were to Monet.

This morning I had a business meeting in the cafe where I usually write. This is a smallish cafe near the school where I work. It's communal, convivial, funky and all the things a coffee shop should be. It's also a bustling local hangout, an intersection of writers, musicians, book groups, poets, priests and politicians all of us bonding over a cup of caffeine.

One of my colleagues looked around and said: "You write in here?"

I looked at her for a moment and then shouted "Sorry, what?"

I'd never noticed before how noisy the place was. But to be honest, I like it. The first question I ever asked my readers was "Where do you write?" As I said then, I like to have people around when I write. Rather than a distraction, the boisterous atmosphere of the cafe reminds me not to be a hermit, that the writers who have a breakout hit and then retreat to an isolated cabin to compose the Great American Novel are usually never heard from again. The people around me inform the narrative, pour their energy into the words.

Because it's been awhile and I have hopefully attracted some new readers since I first asked this back in February I thought I'd ask again and expand upon it a bit...  

If you're a writer: "Where do you write?" Does the boisterous energy of the masses distract you? Or does it help you? What makes the ideal place for you to partake in the written word? Does the setting have to fit the piece? Or is it a mixed bag: does the crowd around you help with scenes that bustle, but take you out of your groove if you're trying to write something lonesome?  

If you're not a writer: "Where do you read?" Does the setting help or hinder the narrative? One of the first things I did when I got to Seattle was read everything I could find that was set here. If I'm traveling somewhere and I know there's a book on my shelf that's iconic for my destination, I'll grab it and take it with me. When I was driving across the US, I read 'Lost Continent' by Bill Bryson in the hotel room every night before bed. I discovered Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch novels when I was in Los Angeles. Leave your thoughts in the comments section! I really want to know.  

Today's Quote of the Day:
"Walk into any bookstore or library, calculate how many lifetimes the average person would need to read all the fiction contained therein. To think that one has anything to contribute, to any genre or tradition, takes genuine hubris."
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  1. I love the quote.

    oh, you want to know where I write. Well, wherever I can find space and time to do it, and get hit by the thunderbolt of inspiration.

    Reading for me happens also when I can steal time. Usually on the bus, in a restaurant, or in bed.

  2. While I get oodles of inspiration when I'm out in the world, my ideal writing place is quiet. I like to be alone when I write, preferably in our den.

    Great quote, though I'm feeling very small. Small but full of hubris! Hee! ;)

  3. I tend to write wherever the bug hits me, but the three places I have been most successful over the past few years have been college libraries (first draft of my novel), my laptop desk at home (two short stories recently published), and local coffee shops (the place I spend the most time writing regularly).

    What I've discovered the libraries and coffee shops have in common is that I usually go there with the intention of writing, while at my laptop desk, I am usually using the thing I write with. I think that the rule is whatever the opposite of "out of sight, out of mind is" then.

  4. Coffee houses are best! Big uncluttered tables, relentless music, bottomless pots of coffee for the purchasing, and energy. I also feel like a writer; like I could turn my proverbial nose up at the multitudes of impolite students using the place as a study hall (even rudely taking more than one table, staying for more hours than I do, which is plenty, and bringing in outside food - intolerable. $2 purchase per hour minimum!!!) I confess, it's all faux bo (fake bohemianism.)


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).