The Myth of Sacred Writing Spaces & Why We Should Embrace the Noise
How to hug the din and make noise your new writing silence
It wasn’t always like this. When I first started writing I had to leave the house. Usually coffee shops or libraries — anywhere with silence and WiFi. If someone jangled their keys, or breathed too hard with noisy nose-wind, I’d lose my shit.
I thought writing was sacred.
Something you do that no one else can do. An artistic act. We’re supposed to write with the door closed, says Stephen King (I realize he didn’t mean it literally, but the quote helps my story, so…).
I needed perfect silence to write. For years. I had to schedule my writing time, like some sacred cow in a sacred space. I thought if I had my sacred writing space, with the perfect writing ritual, I’d create perfect writing.
But it doesn’t work that way.
I’m a blue-collar writer now. I’ve trained myself to write in (almost) any condition. I can write in line at the store. I can write while watching a movie. I can write on a bus, or with green eggs and ham. Right now I’m listening to an audio book in one ear as I write this story.
There’s no way I could’ve done any of these things a few years ago.
Now I take this ability for granted. I don’t need a sacred writing space. I write where I am, when I’m able. This keeps the production line moving and the mental gears lubricated. In the past, when I searched for sacred writing spaces, I didn’t write more times than I did.
Now I write every day.
I didn’t get here by accident. I trained myself to avoid the myth of sacred writing spaces. I was easily-distracted. Now I’m not. And I didn’t give this process much thought until today — when I got an email from a new client. When new writers join my masterclass I ask them about their biggest writing hurdles.
Sometimes I get responses that give me pause. Today, I paused.
This person was a new writer. She lives in a rural area, inside a small house. People, dogs, and land. On one side she’s got new home construction. On the other side she’s got a sawmill. Her only silent, sacred writing space (so she thought), is her county library, miles-away.
Think of what will happen to her writing.
She’s got to assign the time to write. She lives in a rural wonderland that some people would do anything to escape-to. A place she feels she must escape-from. She believes in sacred writing spaces. As I used to. Like so many writers believe.
We think we need the perfect, dedicated spot. A tiny house in the yard. That one coffee shop, like J.K. Rowling. A library. A deep, dark hole — anywhere but here.
When we treat our writing as something that requires a sacred space, we put our work on a pedestal. When we put our work on a pedestal we feel fancy about our work. When our work gets fancy, we don’t practice it often.
It’s time to let go of the sacred writing spaces.
How I trained myself to embrace the noise
Noise is my new silence now. I can write almost anywhere. While I can’t guarantee it will work for you, there are a handful of things you can do to improve your ability to write anywhere.
These are the five steps I used to train myself to write anywhere. Maybe they’ll work for you too:
1. Dump the idea of the sacred writing space —
There’s no such thing as a sacred plumbing space, or a sacred lawyer-ing space. We start by letting go of the idea that our writing is fancy. Instead, we get to work, no matter where we are.
2. Start with no expectations —
When you first attempt distracted-writing, I guarantee this will not go well. Same as when you tried meditating the first time. Give yourself no goal, but to write in a noisy place. Maybe it’s a limerick. Maybe an email. Maybe the first sentence of your novel. The quality of the writing doesn’t matter. We’re focused on the doing.
3. Learn to write on your phone —
I write on my phone a lot, because it’s always with me. During the day there are hundreds of unexpected moments where we’ve got a minute to write. Use these minutes. Choose busy places to write. Focus on the work. Use the noise as your new silence. I find, the more scattered noise the better. I have more trouble paying attention to the writing when there’s a single noise source.
4. When the phone is easy to focus on, try a real writing session —
Sit in the middle of the living room with your family coming in and out, tapping you on the shoulder and asking questions. Write next door to a sawmill. Write while driving through a car wash. You may get angry at the people in the room. This is part of the process. Remember, they didn’t do anything wrong. They are there to help train your distract-o-meter.
5. Try a movie in the background, or a podcast in your ears —
Don’t try to pay attention to the secondary distraction. The writing is your focus. It’s a mindfulness exercise — to force your attention to the work at hand, not matter where you’ve got the laptop.
Try this for ten minutes than give yourself a break. Once ten minutes is easy, go longer. It won’t take long. And this distraction-free work method will help you in other areas too.
I will give you one warning, however. This method will give you laser-focus and the people around you will get annoyed when they’re speaking and you can’t hear them.
We want you to finish your writing
When you choose a sacred space it’s harder to finish the work. This means we, the readers, have to wait longer to read your stuff. Instead, we’d rather you learn to write anywhere — to give the noise a hug.
Maybe you don’t live next door to a sawmill, but grandma’s loud TV will no longer prevent you from writing.
We’re blue-collar writers. Writing is a vocation. We’ve got to turn the crank and flip the switches. It’s time to punch-in and get to work. We’ve got a schedule to keep — else the boss will get angry, and he’s a real jerk.
We’re waiting for you.
August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors to write books that sell and sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.
You just read another exciting post from the Book Mechanic: the writer’s source for creating books that work and selling those books once they’re written.
If you’d like to read more stories just like this one tap here to visit our page.