During my final year at Pomona College, whenever I had a serious deadline, I would put on my glasses and head to the philosophy library. My glasses were tortoise shell with round lenses and did nothing to help my vision. Seriously, they were filled with fake glass. And the philosophy library might as well have been filled with fake books, since I never took one off the shelf. I was an English major who constantly schemed to write more short stories and fewer research papers.
But still, I packed my bag, put on my glasses, and went to that wood-paneled library to write. The ritual got me out of the garage I was living in and imbued my endeavors with an academic weight. Even if it was borderline performative, I needed those glasses and tomes to get my work done. Looking back, the philosophy library was one of my first writing locations — those essential places where the brain learns to focus and create.
Finding Your Location
For those of us who work from home, live in a bite-sized apartment, or both, leaving these confines can be crucial to our writing practice. There are the obvious locations — cafés and bars, co-working spaces, libraries — each with their certain advantages. Outlets, elbow room, restrooms, and low noise are my minimal requirements. I’ll also look for somewhere close to home, so I don’t waste my precious writing time commuting.
If none of these options are appealing or available, get creative — maybe your friend has a home-office or studio space you could use while they’re away. If the library is filled with tearful toddlers, maybe there’s an unused community room. And if you are writing at home, do your best to carve out a specific writing place. Ideally with a door that shuts or some form of partition.
I’ve found that I do best with at least two locations — one at home and a handful out in the world. That way, I can decide where to go based on time, weather, and my creative whims. Whatever location you find, ask the people around you to respect that space. I’ll always admire a writer-friend who had nothing more than a pink hat and her dining room table. But when she put the hat on, she’d officially entered the writing zone and her family knew not to disturb her.
This is a wonderful example of accepting the limits of your schedule and tenaciously writing around them. At the same time, be honest with yourself about what’s working. Do you feel inspired and happy when you sit down to write? Does it fit into your writing budget? And can you truly focus? Don’t be afraid to scrap one location and try another until you find your place.
Committing to Your Corner
Once you find your special corner, commit to it. This could mean planning a few writing days and announcing them to your partner, family, or friends. As lofty as it may sound, I do love throwing a “I’ll be writing at the library” into scheduling conversations. Saying any plan aloud helps hold you accountable for doing it.
Better yet — build the stop at your location into the rest of your day. Back in college, I would leave class and go straight to the philosophy library, since I knew that going home would suck me into the roommate-garage vortex. That meant making sure I had the necessary notebooks, pens, laptops, chargers, etc. And once my bag was packed, it was even harder not to go to work.
What’s more, knowing you’re going to Your Writing Place alleviates self-doubt and distractions. You’re going to the place where you’re creative, and you can trust that when you sit down, you’ll make some form of progress on your writing. So often, the hardest part is getting there, and once you are, the rest falls into place.
Training Your Brain
The more consistent your location and pre-writing routine, the more productive you’ll be. My senior year, as I left my bohemian lair, all the distractions of living in a dusty So-Cal garage fell away. Instead of forcing my hovel to be multi-functional, I went to the library, where my mind knew it had to work.
In her book on self-revision, Intuitive Editing: A Creative & Practical Guide for Revising Your Writing, Tiffany Yates Martin takes this a step further and advocates having two separate spaces — one where you write and one where you edit. This allows your brain to switch between creative mode into the more analytical editorial one. This tactic is more than artistic voodoo — sleep doctors also advise only to sleep (and make love) in your bed. That way, your brain knows it’s where you go to rest, and likewise, you should always write at a table, desk, or some place where you’re meant to work. In other words, definitely not in bed.
The more dedicated you are to your place, the easier it will be to get into writing mode. This also means keeping your workspace distraction free. You might go so far as to leave your phone off, or at least put it in airplane mode when you enter this space. Bring only what you need to write — the more you leave physical distractions at home, the easier it is to leave your scattered thoughts with them.
The Muse Appreciates Consistency
Bear with me, as we leap forward a decade — from the philosophy library at Pomona College to the Bibliothèque de l’Hôtel de Ville in Paris. In my late-twenties, I lived in this city of writerly dreams, and fielded endless versions of the same question: “Are you inspired by Paris?”
Quite frankly, no. Being inspired by Paris sounded like I wandered the streets with a notebook in one hand and a croissant in the other. That I would jot down my musings when beauty struck, then meander on to the next café. Yes, Paris was magnifique. But I was finishing a novel set in LA, and each day, I went to the library.
Yes, the library was also magnifique, but mostly it was quiet. It had water, restrooms, and free Wi-Fi. It was the place where I went to write and my muse knew to meet me there. Though, to be honest, sometimes my best ideas come on the bike ride home, so there is an added beauty in leaving the location and letting your mind unwind.
To Sum it Up
Find a place or, better yet, a couple places. Don’t be afraid to test them too, but once you’re set, start showing up. Train yourself to get into work mode, minimize distractions, and soon your brain will know exactly when it’s time to write.
I’d love to hear from you — How did you find your favorite writing location? And how has it helped you become more productive?
Guest columnist Grace Bialecki will be writing posts throughout the year on ways to establish your writing practice. As an author, editor, and mindfulness meditation teacher-in-training, her approach blends practical advice with techniques to be present when you write.
Grace Bialecki is a writer, editor, and literary coach who teaches for The Bridge and Hugo House. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Catapult and Epiphany Magazine, where she was a monthly columnist. Bialecki is the co-founder of the storytelling series Thirst, and the author of the novel Purple Gold (ANTIBOOKCLUB).
Alongside her writing, she’s completing her Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification through the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. When she’s working with clients, Bialecki emphasizes finding clarity and authentic voice, alongside techniques to be present while writing. To learn more, visit her website or follow her on TikTok or Twitter.