Friday, August 22, 2014

Creating the "Write" Atmosphere

I had an itch to work on some dark prose this week, so I did what I normally do with short pieces.  I sent off the second draft (because who wants to read the first one?) to people I trust (both published and unpublished authors and poets) for their preliminary thoughts.

My favorite reviewer (one of my frequently published friends) spent most of his comments on the opening few lines.  He wanted to remind me of the importance of establishing ambiance immediately.

In writing poetic prose, plot isn't necessarily the most important part of the work.  In fact, it might not even be a fully formed element.  Instead, language reigns supreme.  Emotion and setting become the primary characters.  Atmosphere means everything.

Time is rarely an excuse.

I spent some time last night on a webinar on "How to Find Time to Write" (hosted by Kevin T. Johns).  I thought I'd find it useful, since I do have a full-time job and sometimes wonder how I'll ever find time to get writing done.

Within the first twenty minutes, I realized that time has never been my problem.  I've got it.  Obviously.  Right now I'm using the half an hour between the time I get out of the shower and the time I have to wake up my partner to work on blog posts.  I pretty regularly take short writing breaks at work (rather than actually taking lunch).  In the evenings, I tip-tap away at the keyboard while watching television.

For me, the time is all right there.  It exists.  I can't use lack of time as an excuse. 

During the webinar, Kevin said he felt sorry for people who feel they have to write in particular settings, that they were missing opportunities for productivity by insisting on writing only when in the right mood, or at the right place, or at the right time.   I'm sad to say that I may or may not be one of those people.

I do get a lot of writing done in the midst of chaos.  But that productivity usually takes the form of blog posts, short poems, etc.  I have a lot of trouble fitting fiction into my writing day.  And I think I've identified the root of the problem.

In real life, as in prose, atmosphere means everything.

I am incredibly easily distracted.  I don't know whether it's undiagnosed Adult ADD or just my penchant for getting lost in my head at random moments, but keeping my mind focused on a particular task can be incredibly difficult for me.  Even now, I can't stop from periodically flipping over to twitter or Facebook, or from wondering whether I really ought to go ahead and start making coffee.  Then my mind flits to the terrible coffee we have in our office and I think that yes, I really ought to make myself a giant tankard of coffee each morning before going to work.  You know, I bet I could set that up the night before as well as make my lunch and I'd save time for writing in the mornings--

--and I've come full circle, back to my working on this blog post and wondering whether it makes any sense because of my nonsensical ramblings.   Perhaps, as I've just demonstrated, I'm perfectly capable of working on these sorts of projects in between thoughts as they flicker.  It just works.

Fiction is another beast entirely.  For me, good storytelling requires me to step out of my reality.  I have to look into my characters' world: to see what they see; to hear, touch, and feel what they feel; to be in that moment completely, or else I can't find just the right words.  And therein lies the problem.  How does one really focus on immersing herself in an atmosphere if she can't really get out of the distractions in real life?

Right now, my lack of setting is hurting my fiction productivity way more than my lack of time.  I live in a tiny studio apartment (no doors except for in the bathroom) with my partner and our feline compatriots.  Because of our respective schedules, I am never home alone, which means truly immersive writing for me can ONLY take place in the morning before she's awake.

I've also tried writing in my office at work.  It helps, but only if it's in the early mornings or late evenings when the office is empty.  I occasionally get some good work done in the local public library or in coffee shops.  But I don't yet have a space of my own that I can dedicate to undistracted writing.


So how can we set the atmosphere, wherever we are?

I don't claim to have all the answers.  Obviously, I still struggle with distraction on a daily basis.  However, I do have some suggestions that I've found at least partially helpful.

1.  Headphones -- I have a pair of awesome (but inexpensive) headphones.  They don't block out all sound, but they do at least give me a semblance of privacy.  I could never get anything done in a coffee shop without them.  In this particular instance, I don't suggest earbuds, but instead the larger, more traditional style of headphones.  This suggestion is based on my personal experience--I have yet to get a set of earbuds that give me as much privacy as the larger style can.  Perhaps they frighten would-be distractors away.  :)

Don't need Dr. Dre to jam.

2.  Find some music or background noise -- I know, I know.  Why create background noise when you're trying to get away from distractions?  The object here is to find some sort of sound that not only sets you in a good mood for writing but also helps cancel out any extraneous noise (that you have no control over) going on around you.  Some writers swear by setting their own playlists and writing while listening to those.  Some prefer Pandora or other streaming services that allow you to pick a "genre" you find inspiring.  I'll listen to Pandora occasionally, but I actually much prefer the background noise generator at  If I can't be out by the water at least let me pretend I am.  :)

Will someone please buy me a waterproof notebook?

3.  Sit facing a wall -- Stephen King advocates working facing a corner.  If you've got visual access to lots of interesting things, they're very likely to draw your thoughts away from your work.  Sure, an item or two might help inspire you--your character's eyes are just that shade of aquamarine--but having an abundance of visual distractions is just asking for trouble.

4.  Have all supplies at hand -- Before you sit down, make sure you've got anything you might need to work.  Laptop, books, kindle (because yes, I have references in e-book), pens, pencils, whatever items you might need to work on your chosen project for the day.  There's nothing worse than having to get up and down all morning or afternoon because you have to go searching for something you need but didn't have on you.

5.  Close all extraneous computer windows -- If you do most of your work on a computer (like I do), then close out any windows or tabs you don't need before you start.  Seriously.  Leaving them open will KILL your atmosphere.  Even now I see a second tab opened to Twitter, and as I watch that little (55) move up to (74), it takes all of my will power NOT to check it.  Don't do it.  You're here to write, not to stalk people on social media.

Blogging has demonstrated to me that I have the power to write in a variety of atmospheres, and even to switch between them relatively quickly.  But sometimes, the demands of your story insist upon a certain atmosphere.  Do what you have to do to make it.  Your work deserves it.


  1. Sometimes, I think we could really be the same person. There's a blog prompt on WDC right now and the question is 'what would you do if you had more time?'. I think your post today sums up my issue quite nicely. Yes, I have a little more space (and a couple more people) in my home, but distraction is always an issue. I have a character for a new story and I know what her story is, but I can't get to know her. I feel like life is distracting me from my goals. Ok, scratch that...rewind. I feel like I am allowing my life to distract me from my goals.

    Anyway, this is my long-winded way of saying that I loved this post and I relate to it so very much.

  2. Hi, Brandy! Thanks so much for the sweet comment!

    I admit wholeheartedly that I am my biggest distraction. It's really difficult for me to tune out what's going on around me, particularly when the other half is mulling about. The rest is all my choices though. I don't shut down my other windows nearly often enough, and I rarely use my headphones at home the way I should. C'est la vie. Here's hoping we can both gain some more will power! Our characters deserve their stories to be told!