Writing Outside Your Home

writing-outdoors

A few months ago I wrote about how going for a walk can have a positive impact on your creativity (here). It’s time to build on that. How about bringing your writing tools with you? You could stop somewhere along the way to do a bit of writing.

Sounds good? It is.

Okay, correction, it’s good for me. It may not work for you. There are plenty of writers who just can’t get anything at all done unless they’re sat at their own desk at home and in complete silence. I know others who claim they absolutely have to get out in order to avoid distractions.

This article is about that: writing outside your home.

I’ll start with some of the potential benefits of writing in public spaces, and I’ll continue by listing a few of the places where a writer can practice their art. Finally, I’ll give some practical advice for writing outdoors.

Writing Among People

I do some of my best writing away from home. Cafes, pubs, park benches – they’re all good places for me to write. They’re all public places though. People pass by, make noise, cause distractions. When writing in public you have to accept that there will be distractions. It’s almost impossible to find somewhere that’s completely quiet and where you can know for sure you will not be disturbed.

That’s fine.

Research has shown that a moderate amount of background noise is good for creativity. With noise in the background the brain has to work a little harder to process input, and this in turn leads to increased creativity. You can read more about it here.

That’s not all of it though. It turns out that being around other people who are working increases our performance on our own tasks. Perhaps it’s as simple as being around others who are concentrating hard inspires us to concentrate harder ourselves? You can read the full research paper here.

If you’re going to the park or to the pub you probably won’t find all that many people working there. Cafes, however, are popular among people who want to step out of the office for a bit but who still need to get some work done. In most cafes you’ll be able to find someone tapping away at their laptop while their coffee grows cold – and let’s not talk about the local university library.

Being around others who are concentrating on something makes it easier for you to concentrate on what you yourself are doing.

Where To Go?

Imagine a poet. They’re sitting at a little table at a sidewalk cafe, sipping an espresso and occasionally scribbling something in their notebook.

It’s not a difficult image to picture. It’s a bit of a stereotype really, isn’t it? There’s a reason for that.

A cafe can be a great place for getting a bit of writing done. It’s not too loud. The atmosphere is often both relaxed and positive. There’s an ample supply of coffee and tea, and once you get to know the staff they may even get you the occasional free refill (don’t tell them I said so). On top of that there will probably be other people there, also doing their thing, helping you increase your concentration.

In short, spending time at a nice cafe can boost your creativity and productivity.

There are other places to go to for writing though. I’ve found that pubs can be good. Not all of them will be, but if you find a good one, it’s often very good. Warm and cozy. A little bit dark. Candles on the tables. Old postcards from Paris on the wall above the cash machine behind the bar.

You probably don’t get the “subconscious support” of others working away beside you, but you’ll get a whole lot of ambience to put you in the mood. If you’re really lucky there may even be a fireplace.

When going to a pub to write I try to be there early. If they’re open during the day, that’s great. There will still be other patrons there, but there won’t be as many, and it’s unlikely to be rowdy. Usually I can enjoy my poison of choice (probably a stout) in peace and quiet.

Later on in the day pubs tend to fill up with people. It gets crowded and it gets noisy. That’s the cue to leave. Too much noise makes it hard to concentrate, and you don’t want anyone accidentally spilling their beer over your writing – regardless of whether you’re using pen and paper or a laptop.

Another option that I hear works for a lot of writers is the library. I must admit I haven’t tested this myself, but I can see how it makes good sense. There’s a lot of peace and quiet. The atmosphere is calm, and if you’re at a university library, there’s likely to be plenty of others around studying for this or that upcoming test. It’s bound to be good.

Sitting inside is nice and comfortable, but if you’re feeling a little adventurous try bringing your writing outside for a change. Watch the clouds, listen to the birds, feel the wind on your face. If you’re a fantasy writer, chances are your characters will at some point be scampering around in the wilderness. Writing about this while being outside yourself can add a little bit extra to the experience – both your own and your characters’.

Writing outside can require a little bit of preparation though, and I’ll go into detail about that next.

Writing Outdoors

During spring and summer writing outdoors is as easy as grabbing your writing tools, heading out, and finding a nice place to sit. However, in my part of the world (Ireland) summer is well on its way to becoming autumn, and winter follows soon after that. The days will be colder, shorter, and mostly filled with rain.

Sitting outside to write can still be an option though, and it can be quite rewarding, you just have to put a little bit more thought into preparations.

Firstly, pick a day when it’s not raining. Optionally, if you know a covered spot where you can be sheltered from the rain, that’ll work too. Just keep in mind you have to get there and back again, so dress accordingly. Sometimes an umbrella just won’t cut it.

Next up, make sure you’re able to keep warm.

Apart from dressing warm, I like to bring a thick blanket. I use it to cover my legs and knees where I’m sitting. Sure, it makes me look a bit like an old fart who’s escaped from the local retirement home, but it also keeps the wind and cold off my legs, and that’s more important than what the occasional passing stranger might think.

Sticking with the keeping-warm theme, I also bring something to sit on. Don’t get just a pillow. Get a proper thermal seating pad. The principle is the same as for the sleeping mats you use for camping, but they’re sized to sit on. Freezing your butt off for your art may be a romantic and artistic thing to do, but in practice it’s really not all it’s made out to be.

Next up: fingerless gloves. Keeping your hands warm is important, but typing on a computer or writing with a pen while wearing gloves can be cumbersome – clumsy. Fingerless gloves is the best of both worlds. They’ll keep your hands warm while leaving your fingertips free for more delicate work.

Depending on how you feel, and how long you plan on staying out you may also want to bring something to eat or drink. A light snack, or perhaps a thermos of tea/coffee/hot chocolate. For the most part I usually don’t bring a thermos, but the main reason for that is usually that once I’ve decided to go out I want to leave right away, without having to wait for the water to heat up.

Finally, if your writing spot of choice is some distance away, get a backpack. A messenger bag you carry in a strap over your shoulder may do the trick, but if you’re going to be walking for a while you’ll want an even load on your back – not something that drags one shoulder down more than the other.

Apart from the above, dressing for the weather is also important, but that applies regardless of whether you’re going out to write or not, so I won’t go into details about that. Still, keep in mind that walking any kind of distance in wet socks is quite unpleasant – get proper boots.

This may seem a lot to think of but once you have the things you need – blanket, seating pad, fingerless gloves – put them in a backpack by the door and you just grab it when the need for writing outside arises. Don’t worry about the coffee, you can get that when you’re back home.

Summary

In this article I’ve written about writing outside of your own home.

I mentioned some of the benefits of having a little background noise and of having other people around you while working on something. If you don’t feel like trawling through the scientific research papers, but still have a mild interest in the topic, I’ll recommend this article about working in coffee shops – it’s where I initially found the links.

I listed some of the places where writers tend to be welcome to sit and do their thing. Cafes, pubs, and libraries are the primary locations, but I’m sure there are other types of place that would be happy to have someone sitting in a corner tapping away on their masterpiece – it kind of adds to the atmosphere.

Finally, I gave a few tips about writing outdoors. Essentially, make sure you keep warm if you want to get anything done. Freezing or being cold can be very distracting.

For Further Thought

What’s your own experience with all this? Are you one of those people who are happily tapping away on your laptop in the corner of a cafe, or are you the kind who can’t get anything done unless you’re at your own desk back home?

Do you have a favorite spot away from home where you go to write? Where is it? What’s it like there? If I end up in your neck of the woods and want to sit down and get some writing done, where should I go?

How do you feel about writing outdoors? Have you done it? Does it work for you?

Nils Ödlund

Nils Ödlund is originally Swedish, but lives these days in Cork, Ireland. He's an avid reader, gamer, and fan of geek-culture.

Ödlund picked up writing as a hobby, almost by accident, back in 2010, and it quickly grew into something of an obsession. In 2017 he decided to get serious about it, and in early 2018, he published his debut novella Emma's Story. Since then he's been working on the Lost Dogs series.

When not writing, Ödlund enjoys hiking through the Irish countryside, reading, or playing games.

Unlike every other author in the history of all authors ever (citation needed), Ödlund does not have a cat.
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after.eternity
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after.eternity

I like to write with a fountain pen and codex but I think that writing on a laptop is also good.

Chrome Oxide
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Chrome Oxide

I don’t do a lot of writing outside. However, I do a lot of editing while sitting in clubs while listening to bands that don’t have singers.

Helen Henderson
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Helen Henderson

Outoors in a rocker on the covered porch is my favorite spot to write. At least until dark when the mosquitos come out. The muse also likes to visit while I’m at local concerts. At least until the sunsets. I refuse to write by flashlight in the midst of a crowd.

TA Sullivan
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TA Sullivan

my favorite “away from home” writing technique is to walk and speak (recording what I say). I usually head out to the woods and talk through scenes. It’s especially helpful when I’m trying to put together some dialogue. Of course, other people think me a bit mad…wandering about and mumbling to myself, but then I’m usually so involved in my own little world that I don’t really notice their odd looks. ; )

P. H. Solomon
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P. H. Solomon

Now that’s a great idea! I might try that myself…

Melody Daggerhart
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Melody Daggerhart

I would love to write outdoors, but where I currently live (eastern WA, US), there are wasps. Many, many wasps. I usually end up fleeing back inside with a few karate chops until I can shut the door. 🙂 I usually write best in rainy, snowy places, though, so I’m looking into moving to a climate that suits me better. Weather definitely affects my productivity because when it’s hot I don’t want to do anything.

Wendy
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Wendy

I love to write outside, but in California, it is not always practical. I have the opposite problem than you, instead of dealing with cold, I deal with heat…and lots of it. We seldom have rain here, but sunburn and sweat is an issue. I occasionally go to our local park to write. I bring a folding chair and board to put my alphasmart on since the benches there are uncomfortable. There is a lake with ducks, geese, and storks to watch along with plenty of squirrels.

I prefer our local coffeehouse where I can sit at a comfortable table, have all the coffee I want and am in A/C. I don’t bring earphones, but lately I’m starting to think that they would be a good idea. Wearing them is a universal sign of “do not disturb” in public. 🙂

Thanks for the great article! Keep them coming. 🙂

P. H. Solomon
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P. H. Solomon

I’ve tried a cafe and just get distracted by people though I’m willing to re-try with headphones on and listening to classical music and such (something with few or no words). I’m also willing to give a library a try at a quiet location. I do need to get outdoors some too.

Richard
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Richard

I’m finding some of the best lines in the shower. It just works that way. The challenge is to have blank (dry) paper nearby, towel quickly, and jot down choice phrases before they vanish. Writing has become something of a sport — I suppose that’s a win-win all around.

Gabriella L. Garlock
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Gabriella L. Garlock

Thanks to someone who clearly writes from practical experience!

Here I sit in my new back yard–though in town, it backs up to the woody town swamp. One of those beachy lounge chairs, laptop, cup of tea and croissant on a little wooden thingie… A little cold and dewy with autumn leaves falling.

New house repairs have kept me from blogging for weeks and from writing even longer! The last time I wrote anything was just like today: I HAVE to take a break outside because the stupid, senile old Siamese has escaped into the swamp (again).

Not as peaceful as I’d pictured when I bought the house (to have a writer’s escape): some lawn-obsessed OCD neighbor is always on the tractor. One joker even routinely leaf-blows SOMEthing…in his BACK yard! Don’t these people understand the real value in their own outdoor retreats?

So you’re right: writing outside isn’t for the faint of heart, wherever it is. In the city park there’s always some a-hole partying it up on a speed boat. Back on my condo balcony the kids practiced their new-found ability to scream (so I bought a house). Right now a frantic blue jay is drowning out the sweet sound of the chickadees. And the blinding sun keeps moving among the leaves and hitting me right in the eyes. Don’t get me started on mosquitoes.

Oh, here comes the stinkwad cat now, soaked through the fur. I’ll NEVER get any writing done.

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