If you need the perfect location to write, you’re a holiday rep, not a writer

Photo of the Alhambra by Kim Hansen via Wikimedia CC-sa 3.0

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need a special place in which to write. Somewhere that is a perfect mix of peace and stimulation, perhaps. A room with a view?

And the time to write. And no other pressing calls on your time or energies.

I know from experience that the perfect setting means nothing if the pen doesn’t meet the paper.

In 1979 I was in Granada. A couple of bad decisions and then a wonderful stroke of luck meant that as spring turned to summer that year I was sharing a house with a beautiful woman in the old Moorish quarter of the city — the Albaicin — overlooking the Alhambra palace and the gardens of the Generalife.

The weather was warm, I had no responsibilities, and my room had a balcony from where I could look across the Alhambra to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. If I were to choose a place now that I believed would be the perfect place to write, this would come very close.

All around me was the stimulation I needed. Our house shared a courtyard with a Gypsy family that danced in Flamenco shows in the nightclubs built into the caves higher up the hill of the Albaicin.

Below the balcony — where I sat watching the sun sparkle on the remaining snow atop the mountains — donkeys wandered the alley outside the courtyard, occasionally dropping cannonball turd piles. The scent would rise in the warm air.

I would walk to the square at the end of our short narrow street and be greeted — every time — by the disabled civil war veteran who sat in his doorway. Going and coming back he would send out an ‘Adios’ — with the ’s’ dropped in Andalusian style — that would take him so long to utter that I was almost at the square or back at the house before the last lingering sound of the long ‘o’ reached my ears.

My girlfriend worked at the local university and was out all day. I had nothing to occupy me but writing. I had come there to write.

I didn’t write.

This was my first lesson in the unimportance of the external so far as writing is concerned. For me, at least. Your mileage may differ.

Views don’t matter. The weather is not important. Comfort is a nice to have.

What matters in the end is the simple act of picking up the pen and starting to move the hand across the page. (Other writing methods are available.)

I am fundamentally a very slow learner when it comes to the way my head works. So I spent far too many years looking for my external situation to be perfect instead of just picking up the pen…..