Writing away from home and distractions can be productive and rewarding. Ensure you prepare well to make the most of your writing time with our practical advice ...
Many writers are happy to work in their own home, but for others, having somewhere else to go is a necessity. Prepare well for your writing break to ensure you make the most of your time, with our practical advice
If you want to get away and focus on your writing, it’s important to note that the ‘away’ in question doesn’t need to be glamorous; in fact it’s probably better, from the perspective of distraction-control and budget management, if it isn’t. But what is important is to go with a specific aim. It may be to kick-start a project that’s been lying dormant for a while, or to begin something new. It may be just a few days to think something through. Or to read. Or to plan. Or it may be a longer trip to rewrite before submission to agents or publishers, or to edit a final draft for publication. Whatever the task in hand, the same considerations apply, namely: how much to spend, where to go, what to prepare in advance and what to take.
Getting away from it all for a writing break - the basicsPROS
• Time and space to concentrate on your work without distraction or interruption
• The distraction of being in a new place
HOW TO PREPARE
• Set a realistic, manageable budget
• Book all travel in advance to get cheapest tickets. Avoid school holidays for the same reason
• Check you will have somewhere to work comfortably for long periods
• Set yourself a realistic target and write out a clear work schedule. Allow some time to enjoy your surroundings or there’s no point in going away
• Pack anything you can’t risk losing in a rucksack that stays with you while travelling
• Leave emergency contact numbers at home or with friends. (I never do this.)
• If travelling abroad, learn a few essential phrases
• Learn to live with guilt and how only to do dishes once a week
WHAT TO TAKE WITH YOU
• Pens, printed manuscript if editing, laptop, hard drive, memory stick, books, ebooks, adapter, chargers, leads, schedule, travel kettle
The amount you can afford to spend will affect everything else, so be realistic and set yourself a clear budget. Even if you intend to starve in a garret somewhere romantic you will still need to factor in the cost of an occasional baguette. Before you book anything, especially if funds are limited, check if your money might be better spent improving your writing-at-home experience by buying you more regular writing hours, perhaps courtesy of a more comfortable chair, a bigger desk, a dishwasher, an after-school club for the kids, or a shed in the garden.
Budget for your writing break
If it turns out you can’t afford to go anywhere, what are your options? Working in cafés is fine for a couple of hours now and again, especially if you need a warm place in winter, but even the friendliest staff will raise their eyebrows at a single cup of coffee that lasts a whole morning. Sitting in cafés can be expensive, to say nothing of the effects on your bodyweight.
A library might be the answer for you, but I find them difficult. There’s always someone who kills the rarefied ambience by sucking their teeth or crunching their way through a family pack of crisps. I find people talking at normal volume easy to shut out, but the sound of people whispering is an invitation to eavesdrop. And if you’re someone who needs to pace up and down or stop work every twenty minutes to stand next to a boiling kettle, or read every sentence out loud until it’s right, the library isn’t for you.
Pick a locationIf you’re still determined to go away, your destination will to an extent be determined by available funds and how far they will stretch. Your choice of location may be dictated by the work you want to do. Are you writing a novel set in a particular place, or do you have a character who uses a specific vernacular that needs to be studied in situ? Do you intend to incorporate an element of research into your trip?
Do you like the idea of blowing your whole budget on an organised writer’s retreat with a group of other writers, all strangers and all eager to talk about their work over dinner and a bottle of wine at the end of each day? Or would you prefer to buy yourself the maximum amount of solitude possible?
The group retreat is not the best option if you are going away to sidestep the demands of other people. Groups attract people who want to be with other people, sometimes because they are lonely and want attention, sometimes because they are competitive and want acknowledgement, and okay, sometimes because they like to have a bit of company after a long day’s slog at their computer. But be warned, usually by day three someone will be in tears and may have even decided that you’re the person who understands them best. Other people, whoever they are, can be at best distracting and at worst, demanding.
The ideal compromise is to invite a friend to join you. Travelling with another person can be much cheaper, and a fellow writer who understands what you’re there to do is the perfect companion.
If you're going to try writing on a family holiday, make out a clear writing schedule before leaving and give a copy of it to every member of the family with firm instructions as to when you won't be available. Which brings us to:
Basic requirements and preparationDon’t book a place to stay until you are certain it has everything you need that you can’t take with you. This may be stating the obvious, but make sure there is somewhere for you to write undisturbed for long periods of time. The last thing you want is to waste time looking for somewhere to work because you forgot to ask if there’s a suitable desk, chair, kettle, electricity supply for your sole use. Check in advance how far you’ll be from the nearest shop/market/restaurant/internet access. If you’re staying at a B&B, make sure they won’t be expecting you to vacate your room between breakfast and dinner. If you’re travelling abroad, don’t forget to take an adapter.
Plan to arrive so that you have time to set up (pin up your work schedule, lay out your pens, set up your computer) ready to start work the next morning, and still have an hour or so to explore your surroundings before it gets dark. Bon Voyage!