Skip to content


June 5, 2019

Another question that comes up a lot in the writing forums is writing environment.

Where do you write?

When do you write?

Under what conditions do you write?

What music do you listen to when you write?

Bla bla bla.

I’ve touched on some of these areas in the past and it’s time to look at them in more detail.


Okay, not everyone can write on the fly. That’s understandable. We’re not all like the war correspondent that can take paper in pen in a combat zone, or be behind enemy lines or in the middle of a gang war with a recorder, giving a blow-by-blow of the action. We’re of a more creative bent, which usually requires a certain setting and mood.

What’s yours?


Some of us can write almost anywhere. Nowadays, most of us are only bound by where we can take a laptop. This can be a library, a coffeehouse, a park, a bedroom, or to quote my buddy, James Rollins, an airplane. If you still use pen and paper, same rule applies.

On the other hand, I use a PC, a specific PC, and it sits in my computer/music room and that’s where I do all my writing. I used to be able to write at work during my old job in my spare time. No more. That leaves after work and on weekends, time permitting. My place is pretty specific. It may be the same for a lot of you.


Some people can write on the fly. I certainly can, if the opportunity strikes.

Some of you have to be in a certain mood. Many of you can’t if you’re under stress, while others of you find writing is therapy.

To me, writing is an escape from the real world. When I get in the zone, the world more or less disappears for a time, like watching a movie, except I’m making the movie up as I go along. Sure, I’m still fully aware of my surroundings, but I’m still off in another world.

Some of you struggle to get in your zone. Your PLACE can severely affect you getting in your zone. It must be picked with great care, to ensure you can reach that zone.

That all goes back to when. If your place is the library, but your when happens to be after the library is closed, scratch that off to another unproductive day unless you have an alternative location. The same if the local Starbucks is overcrowded and noisy, and you’re easily distracted. Given that any coffeehouse is more than likely noisy and overcrowded, that should be a given.

Say you’re at home and your when is interrupted by a malfunctioning toilet. You have to stop and address the problem. Can you get back your when and into the zone again?

Whatever your place, the when has to coincide with it or you miss an opportunity and guess what? No new pages come out.

Does that mean you can’t accomplish anything?


You can still be thinking about what to do while you address the interruption. Maybe scribble notes or by repetitive thinking, get something in mind to jot down when you get time later.


This goes back to the first two. Where and when.

How sensitive are you? How distracted can you get? How much flack in the background does it take to veer you off the path?

As for me, a bomb can go off in the background and if I’m in the zone, I generally don’t notice unless the wife want’s something. THEN I take notice! I address the problem, then come back and pick up where I left off as if nothing ever happened. I don’t lose focus.

For some of you, the slightest thing can ruin your concentration. For you, conditions have to be exactly right or you can’t get out a creative thing.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have fleeting thoughts, but generally, if I think of something and can let it sink in, I can recall it later Not always, but a lot of the time. I know I’ve forgotten lots of great things, but many I’ve been able to retain. Some I’ve had to jot on sticky notes on my computer desk because I knew I wouldn’t use them until much later. So, to ensure I don’t forget them over time…

What are your conditions? Do you need to have absolute quiet? Do you need to be isolated? Is a coffee shop to noisy for you? Are the chirping birds and distant traffic noise in a park too distracting for you to concentrate? Is the whispering in the library too much to take?

Do you need to be in a soundproof chamber to be able to get in your zone?

I think that’s probably taking it a bit too far, but everyone has their certain conditions. Maybe subtle external noises aren’t the factor at all.

Maybe you need incense burning. Maybe you need certain background noises to get you pumped up.

Maybe you need music?


A real common question that comes up on the forums is: What music do you listen to when you write? I sometimes think the real motivation for half these threads is just an excuse for people to plug their favorite bands, but hey, why not? I do in my books, well some of them anyway. Some I plug are not so favorite, some for shock value, but who’s counting?

Music can not only soothe, but it can fire one up. It can also help drown out other distracting noises. It can help get one in the zone, if chosen well.

Personally, I can’t play it without headphones. The heavy and often extreme metal I listen to and the volume I’d require just to hear it would creep right through the wall into the living room and drown out the TV. Uh, not good. I’m not a fan of headphones, so I just don’t bother. No big loss. I have a CD player in the car and get to listen to my heavy metal vomit music on the way to and from work every day. It has nothing to do with my writing anyway.

Music has been a big inspiration in my writing, in more ways than one, but I don’t play it in my head. I used to think I did, and said so in various forums. However, after really thinking about it, it turns out I actually spend all my mental real estate on the story. Music isn’t even in the realm of what I’m doing. I know because as I was thinking about this article, I was writing a chapter in my latest fantasy novel and I dual purposed, thinking of what I was thinking about. Nope, no music. I was just concentrating on the story. In the next room, the TV was going on some movie. I heard little snippets of sound, but it was all “Wa wa wa wa wa.” Like adults talking in a Charlie Brown cartoon.

I was in the zone.

Some people would have their favorite music going to get them in the zone. At the same time, pitching their favorite bands.

Whatever works.

I’ll admit that as I’m listening to my music on the way to work, which all joking aside, may be metal, but is usually (as they say), heavy but clean vocals, I’m quite often thinking of some plot element of one of my stories. There you go.


Environment is a key element to any writer. We’re word artists. We have to get in the zone. While it may seem elaborate or screwy to some, you DO have to be in a mood and a certain setting or environment to get fired up. At least most of us do. While I may be easier to please than most, I fully understand what it takes to get there.

Happy writing!

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: