Don’t Let A Toxic Environment Poison Your Writing Session!

Does clutter on and around your writing space annoy you? Make you tense? Or does having things spotless feel suffocating? It’s important to consider these things.

Fellow writers: coming up to NaNoWriMo, it’s important for participants to get a game plan together, and for me, that involves not only what I’ll be writing, but when (the hours of the day) and where. Do you have a preferred writing nook? A specific type of environment that helps you focus? If, like me, you find yourself writing sporadically in lots of different places, what do the places where you get the most work done have in common? I’ve written a post entitled Managing Each Minute: Making the Most of Your Writing Time. Well, one way to do that is to optimize your environment; write where you’re most likely to let the words just flow. If some aspect or other of your writing environment is toxic in combination with your personality and your needs, you won’t be productive.


I guess the point of this post is that everyone is different: one of the keys to a successful writing session–whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not–is knowing what you need and what you must avoid at all costs in your writing environment.You have to feel comfortable and free, and you have to be able to focus on the page or the screen in front of you.

Me, I hate working in the library. I hate it so much!!! The atmosphere chokes me, and the place is just too quiet. I have worked there on occasion when I more or less had to be there, and it’s gone okay, but it’s not my preferred location at all. I find myself focusing on the clock just counting down how much longer until I can feasibly leave. One of my best friends, on the either hand, can work all day at the library and be crazy productive. She can’t have noise at all in the background or she just zones out. Working from home’s not good for her, but I thrive just sitting with my laptop on the couch, like I said above. I just can’t have the television on. TV will draw my attention in a way thatmusic of a reasonable volume just won’t at all. I know this about myself, and I can promise, during November, I will NOT be watching much television, if any.


When I’m not writing curled up on the couch at home with my laptop on my knees, I find myself writing in cafes. Cafes on campus, or public cafes: it really doesn’t matter. I like to have bustle going on around me, as long as it’s not too invasive, because I find I can tune it out easily, and having action in the background keeps me energized and going. I can just pound out the pages, or get them edited pretty easily. If my environment is too quiet, I get tired and bored, and I stall out.

Where they sell that magic liquid that makes writing happen.

One problem for me, though, is having the music too loud, especially when there are lyrics. I can’t tune out the lyrics if they’re blasting, and then that’s what I find myself focused on instead of my writing, and it’s really, really frustrating. I avoid the local Starbucks for precisely that reason. Too often the music is just too distracting to me because it’s loud, at least at my local Starbucks location. So I go to a locally-owned cafe instead. They have better seating and more teas. Their pastries are aMAZing, and I prefer to support a local business anyway, when I can. They know me and they have my standard drink down: lately, it’s been a small cafe au lait. (You can take the girl out of New Orleans, but not the New Orleans out of the girl. It’s just missing beignets!)


Generally, when I have a long day of writing or even just studying/grading/grad student stuff planned, I like to mix up my locations throughout the day. That policy gets me up and moving and walking. It prevents me from feeling restless from being in one area too long. It exposes me to fresh air. It also forces me to break when I go from one place to the other, which increases my stamina for working as the hours drag on. I just LOVE my walking time. It’ s my “me time.” Oftentimes I spend it planning out a new scene, or figuring out a blog post idea, so that when I get to where I’m going, bam, I’m all set and ready to put my fingers to the keyboard. This location-hopping is not a policy that would necessarily benefit everyone on a productivity level, and not everyone’s schedule allows for it, but it works for me. I know it works for me, so I plan to keep it going during NaNoWriMo, writing at home for two hours or so in the morning, then writing some more somewhere else in the afternoon.

So remember, it’s all about you! Location hopping can be successful for you, perhaps, if it’s only moving from one room in the house to another. Maybe you’re a creature of habit, and if you’re not in your office, at your desk, no words will come. They just won’t. No problem: just make sure you plan your writing for those moments you know you can be at your desk.

So, where is it easiest, or hardest, for you to write? What drives you batty when you’re trying to get a scene out?

A QUICK REMINDER: “The Crimson League,” the first novel in my Herezoth trilogy, is free for download today from If you’re interested in the free read, you can get it here.


11 responses to “Don’t Let A Toxic Environment Poison Your Writing Session!

  1. I usually write on the sofa in our sunroom. No music. Sometimes I write in my office – I don’t have a desk, just a big comfy chair, but I like the light in the sunroom better (that’s the FL girl in me). But I can write most places as long as there’s not music. Now that my son is driving himself, I won’t have to write at Starbucks, the library, in my car, etc., but I’ve written just about everywhere in the last year!

  2. All my main writing is done at my desk. I usually take a notebook everywhere else, just to jot notes for my next writing session. I tend to thrive in silence, so being anywhere else with accompanying distractions disrupts my train of thought and usually end up having to re-write everything.

  3. I can do a cafe if I have my ipod with me to drown out that inevitable person whose voice rises above the crowd with stories of dating woe or something like that. Nothing is more distracting to me! Once I have my Celtic instrumental playlist in my ears I can work almost anywhere.

  4. Great post! I won’t officially be participating in NaNoWriMo, but I plan on finishing my book before the end of the year, so I’m still doing a lot of writing daily!These days most of my writing is done at my desk, probably because I have desktop computer and my laptop is dying. For years I did most of my writing outside. I think that was because I could be alone out in the yard, or taking a walk in the woods, but never at home! I find that I can deal with any type of background noise, EXCEPT loud rock music (which is actually what I prefer to listen to any other time). I think the most important thing for me is that my immediate area, and preferably the entire room, be at least reasonably clean! I find if my desk is cluttered, or if I can see dishes or laundry piled up (my desk and my washing machine and dryer are all in the kitchen) then I totally get distracted and it definitely keeps me from being able to maximize my writing time!

    • I’m the same way! I can handle some clutter but not a big mess. No way.

      I spent a summer writing on a bench during lunch breaks at the University of Alabama…. it was wonderful. In the shade, in an alcove, so no worries about heat/sunburn.

      Good luck finishing your book before the end of the year 🙂

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