Escaping House Arrest

Saturday, 8 July 2017

At the moment I'm finishing edits on my second novel, Everything Is Lies. It’s about a young architect, Sophia, who comes home to find her needy mother dead. Stunned at this inexplicable turn of events, she discovers that her mother had been in a cult in her youth, and had been about to publish an expose of her time there. Through her mother's notebooks, Sophia is drawn into the sinister and ruthless world of the Ascendants…

I write full time now, so most of Everything Is Lies and the editorial work on Dear Amy happened in this house. Writing is a solitary business by its very nature. It's lovely to do what you love, but not so great, perhaps, to be trapped too long in the house with only your own thoughts for company. Or at least to be trapped in the house with my thoughts. I can't speak for other people's.
So, without much more fanfare, here is a list of alternative places to write, to break up the monotony and perhaps get yourself out of a writing rut. After all, there is only so much avoiding the dirty dishes a girl can take over the course of a day…

1. Cafes
Cafes are the first choice for a writer - there is a chair, table, coffee and cake, which is essentially all you need to write any book ever. If you were going for the gold star experience, you can also invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and job's a good'un. Starbucks is actually a great cafe to write in - most have tables and chairs of the right height to work comfortably, free wifi, and a culture of encouraging lone laptoppers.
Indie cafes can also be good, though they require a little more consideration - as a rule they are smaller and require more table turnover to make a profit, so I try not to linger in them too long if they are more than half full.

2. Libraries
A library is perfect if you live in a noisy house and you could really do with some blessed silence to think in. Public libraries are great, but what you might not know is that if you have a university near you, you could be able to get visitor's tickets to the university library. I used to go to the University of Surrey's library in Guildford all the time and loved it. They tend to be open very late in term, which is handy if you're a night owl like me. A campus is usually designed to encourage reflection and relaxed concentration with its landscaped greenery, so they can be very pleasant places to work. Different universities have different access rules (for instance, Cambridge University Library will only let certain categories of users in) but it's always worth asking at your local university.

3.  Pubs
I'm a big believer in writing with friends - having creative playdates, as it were. You can pitch up, watch one another's stuff when the other goes to the loo, and have a chat and catch-up over lunch. My experience is that group writing encourages us all to stay focussed and makes the lonelier aspects of writing seem more communal, and I suspect it's part of why Nanowrimo events are so popular.
For years I was in a group that met twice a week in the South Bank Centre at night. There are some lovely pubs around where you can have a nice lunch, gossip about the ones that didn't show, and then crack on with work in the afternoon as the pub naturally gets quieter.

4. Hotels
Though they are hugely variable in facilities, hotels offering tea to the public can be a great place to write. Five star hotels in particular are comfortable and beautiful spaces, usually without music (there might be the risk of a bit of tinkly piano in the background, but you pays your money and takes your choice) and have excellent service, and even though that pot of Fortnum and Mason Royal Blend looks expensive, the odds are good that it will be refreshed at some point.

5. Your house, only better.
A friend of mine who writes and works from home has a daily "commute" to his job and I started doing this myself recently. Twice a day I take a walk, once before starting work, and then on finishing. During that walk you review what you hope to achieve that day, take some fresh air, and generally get your head right. It helps, I find, with the problem of separating your work and home life - when you work from home, there is a danger you are never properly at work and never properly off the clock.
By clearly demarcating what is work and what is rest, your life becomes less stressful and more manageable.

There are other places worth considering, and which I love to write in, but they are not free - for instance, the Member's Room at the British Museum, the top floor bar in the South Bank Centre with its fabulous views (be aware though, before you splurge on membership, that they are becoming increasingly inimical to laptops so check their regulations before you part with your money), and funnily enough, trains. When I was contracting, I spent half my life on trains and there is something about that concentrated 45 minutes that ended up being really creative.

And don't worry if one strategy works for a while and then stops - that's the nature of the beast. The important thing is to be out for a change, to be productive, and to enjoy yourself - whatever you're writing.

by Helen Callaghan (@ hecallaghan)

This post has been kindly written in support of #Rebeccas24HourReadathon. SomeOne Cares is a charity that helps support survivors, young and old, who have suffered of rape or some form of abuse at some point in their life. 

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