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Many writers are solitary creatures. It's an occupational hazard. We hole up in home offices or even at tiny desks in closets. Unless we’re living with a partner or roommates, we might go days without so much as making eye contact with another human being. Granted, other writers are more social and thrive on noise and chaos. I am not one of those people, and most of the novice and experienced writers I know find writing to be a somewhat lonely practice.
It's important to get out—not just to step away from the desk, but to actually leave the office (and the house) . . . and to leave my own comfort zone. Unless my immediate material focuses solely on secluded navel-gazing, one of the worst things I can do as a writer is to permanently hole up inside my own cocoon.
But getting out doesn't mean that I'm not still working. I have two paths to "off-campus" productivity:
• Adventures in co-working and write-ins.
Embracing the non-ordinary
To keep work—and life — from getting stale, I remind myself to keep a look-out for new experiences. It could be as simple as trying a new route to the library, or as extreme as going skydiving for the first time.
If an opportunity presents itself—an invitation to play paintball, a friend who needs a companion for a tour of Kenya, a class on underwater basket-weaving—I figure, why not? If my first, knee-jerk reaction is to reject it, I'll take a moment to consider: Is this opportunity really too time-consuming, out of my way, or otherwise inconvenient? Or does it simply require me to step outside my comfort zone?
Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
I do try to be smart about this; with my chronic dysautonomia, not every physical activity is appropriate or even possible. But when I take chances—solo travel to a country where I don’t speak the language, or trying street hockey when I can barely skate—I've found that wonderful things can happen. I meet new people, get plenty of new story ideas, and have a lot more fun than I’d have sitting in the home office day after day.
Adventures in co-working and write-ins
This part is not as sexy, but it's a necessary part of my productivity puzzle.
About a year ago, a wonderful little coffee shop opened up in my neighborhood. The staff is friendly, the tea and baked goods are delicious, the WiFi is strong, and the location can't be beat—I can walk there through the park! It's the perfect environment for productive research, writing, and editing away from my desk.
Still, it was a solitary exercise. So, when National Novel Writing Month rolled around last November, I hosted my first-ever write-ins. I planned a schedule—two mornings a week—and invited other NaNoWriMo participants to join me. I met a dozen other local writers this way—people I otherwise might never have connected with. One of these writers has been a regular co-working buddy ever since.
Hosting a Write-In
What to look for in a write-in location:
• Coffee/tea menu—do I have to explain this? Food also helps.
• Adequate seating. Not everyone has to sit together, but you should all be able to assemble within easy earshot of each other.
• Power outlets. Call ahead to ask about available outlets if you're not sure. I tend to carry an extension cord and a power strip with me, just in case.
• Noise level. You don't want to have to whisper to each other so as not to disturb the other patrons, but you don't want to have to be shouting over the coffee machines and the house music, either.
• Groovy staff. Giving the staff a heads-up about your gathering—even if it's just three people—can go a long way to a great writerly experience.
• YOU! Show up and write already.
Traveling is also a great time to investigate co-working opportunities, wherever you happen to land.
When I was working in Dublin in the fall of 2011, I looked around my neighborhood for cafés with WiFi access. That was pretty much useless. I then realized that, of course, Dublin would have co-working facilities! After a quick Google search, I settled on AMWorks and it was just about perfect—good layout, clean, quiet, and convenient to public transportation. Plus, the people were friendly and respectful. The week I spent in those offices was pure gold.
When you need to "get out," don't be afraid of trying something new—whether it's a clown college seminar, hosting a write-in at your local hang-out, or even finding an office-away-from-home in a foreign city. I find the novelty and camaraderie to be priceless when it comes to real productivity.
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