Stephen King’s “On Writing” is a powerful book. It’s a must-read if you want to become a better writer. Moreover, a better human being.
King taught me to limit my adverbs, to read more, and most important of all, to choose wisely* where we write (*Sorry Mr. King, I couldn’t help myself).
“Write at the same time in the same place every day. Make it a habit.” — Stephen King
Where you write makes all the difference.
Do you write while laying in your bed? Do you do it where there are too many distractions like in your living room?
I’ve written in my bed before. It was warm and very cozy. I also ended up writing crap. There was no power in my words. No conviction. It was lazy.
Doubting the power of writing in one place is a big mistake.
Compare yourself to other professionals. Hold yourself to a higher standard
A soccer player isn’t on the field checking his Twitter feed because he’s addicted to distractions. Professional musicians don’t say “eh, I’m not feeling this concert today, let’s just go play Xbox instead.”
These people are successful because they come ready to play, even on days when they’re not feeling up to it.
Professional writers are hardly any different. They establish the arena (an old shanty desk in the corner) bring their weapons (pens and laptops) and battle to the bloody death (write).
If you don’t show up to the proper arena how can you expect to battle to the best of your ability?
It’s like a goalkeeper showing up to a game without cleats and goalie gloves. He’s already building in excuses as to why he failed. Our worst enemy is ourselves. We get in the way of our own success and then blame it on the world.
Pathetic, it is (use your Yoda voice)
It’s all the rage
King is hardly the only writer who uses this approach.
Hunter S. Thompson wrote in his basement, an area he called “the War Room.” Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up at his desk, as did Charles Dickens and Thomas Wolfe. With Wolfe being 6 foot 7 giant, he used the top of his refrigerator as a desk.
Your arena for writing is paramount to your success as a writer. You need to show up there every day whether you’re feeling up to it or not. There should be no distractions. That means turn off your cell phone and no television — which King believed we should “blow up” anyway.
Keep in mind you don’t need a fancy arena
In his early years as a writer, King envisioned one day working off a “massive slab of oak that would dominate a room.”
In 1981 he got his dream desk and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study. The desk was anything but the messiah that King had hoped for. Instead, it brought the writer and his family six years of misery.
“For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind,” King wrote. “Like a ship’s captain in charge of a voyage to go nowhere.”
After King sobered up, he abandoned his dream desk and instead opted for a handmade one, shoving it into the corner of his office. The corner, being a significant place for King who reminds us as writers, to remember what’s really important when we battle in our arena.
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
Writing is magic and a lot of us forget that.
I’m just the middleman. I let the words do most of the talking. And because we’re dealing with magic here it doesn’t take much to break your flow.
A phone goes off.
Your roommate barges in to ask if he can borrow your keys.
You get a notification from Tinder on your computer.
Bang! The magic is gone. It’s escaped out the back window and is on the run. Now you’ll have to recapture that magic, which could take hours.
Writing is difficult enough without distractions. This is why it’s important to establish an arena, or a “sanctuary” as I’ve heard other writers call it. Clock in. Let the magic fill the room. Clock out. Do this every day and you will see great results. Pinky promise.
Finally, I am a journalist, so I don’t always have the pleasure of writing in one place at once. So when I am on the road I make sure to eliminate all distractions and set up an arena just as I would at home.
Never let your cellphone win over your writing. Pathetic that still is.