Blogger in Residence, Matthew C Lamb, has put in the hard yards, investigating the best spots for writing in our city.
Location has a significant impact on what we write. Visual stimuli, personal associations, distractions, the benefits and confines of consistency and routine—all these are tied to place and can influence the quality, tone and stamina of our writing.
So, if you haven’t thought about it before, ask yourself now: where do I write, and why?
Here are some options I recently explored around Canberra.
The obvious choice. Convenient, free, a commute to die for. Pyjamas are passable as work attire. This is undoubtedly the most common place to write, even for established writers.
There are several shortcomings, however. Homes are a distraction-rich environment. Is it really possible to ignore the clanging of the washing machine? Wasn’t Hugh Jackman going to be on Ellen today? And how much does your home stimulate you? Can your characters, events and locations be true to life when they are created in a place that is deliberately removed from it?
Work-life balance is a two-way street.
Rumour has it JK Rowling wrote the early Harry Potter novels in an Edinburgh café called The Elephant House. Was the café environment an element of her eventual success?
Cafes offer visual stimulation, noise, a simultaneous sense of bustle and unhurried calm. I posed the question where do you write to a number of writers around Australia, and a good proportion said a café was their preferred writing haunt. And it doesn’t have to be a café per se. “I used to write in the upstairs food court of the Canberra Centre,” says Andrew Galan, a location that inspired one of his soon-to-be published poems.
I spoke to a few Canberra café owners for their perspective, and they were all more than welcoming. Most were actively supportive of writers—as long as the writer understands business priorities. Be prepared to be asked to move, if needed. Most importantly: talk to them! Let them know why you are there and ask what you can do to make it a mutually beneficial experience. You might even get some new fans.
Need some guidance? Common writing haunts include A Bite to Eat in Chifley (“we had a resident poet for a few months [and they] interacted with the customers”, says owner Tony Bogovic), Griffins Café in Griffith, or Good Brothers in Dickson.
A handful of writers I spoke to preferred libraries. They are a quiet, accessible and free alternative to the home environment, and there is an intrinsic appropriateness to writing among books.
I headed to the National Library of Australia. “[Writers] are very welcome to use the Main Reading Room when writing,” Mary Gosling, Manager of Reading Room Services, says. She is right. There is ample space, a variety of writing nooks, as well as valuable facilities (power points, free Wi-Fi, printers). The recent refurbishment has turned it into a visually enticing place, and what can be more stimulating than writing among books, or starting the creative process with a visit to the Library’s free exhibitions? Regular visitors can also apply to use the Petherick Reading Room upstairs, which is away from the “hubbub” and has a few extra conveniences.
There were a couple of shortcomings, though. It can be unnervingly quiet, with every cough or rustle of paper like a gunshot across the room. I worried my keystrokes annoyed the other patrons. And although I thought it would be free, I was rudely shocked to find parking now costs $2.50 an hour…
The gold standard of writing locations might just be your own office. A permanent, dedicated writing place can help you develop a routine, allows you to monopolise space with butcher’s paper character arcs and whiteboards of ideas. You get to remain attached to the world: you have colleagues, a commute, a water cooler. And it doesn’t have to be a stuffy tie-and-jacket place. Creative shared offices are appearing around Canberra, offering the facilities of an office with the vibrancy of a creative hub.
But the cost. My research suggests it doesn’t have to be extortionate, with options starting at under $100 a week, including shared office space/hot-desking, Wi-Fi, printing facilities, even a shower and kitchen. The Studio manages two such offices in Canberra and offer a tour or trial day. “We have two [writers] working here at the moment,” says Byron Little of The Studio’s office in O’Connor. “Most of our members here have started by working from home, but need to have that work/ life balance.” Entry29 is another option, and offer reciprocal membership arrangements in other locations.
There are many alternatives, which a simple Google search will identify near you (include the word “creative”).
Here are some other options you might like to explore:
- Have you tried a writing retreat? Reenergise by isolating yourself in a beautiful, inspirational country environment, often with other writers present who you can bounce ideas off, share a cup of tea with. Wander over to the websites for the Bundanon Trust and Varuna properties for instant motivation, or contact the ACT Writers Centre for more details/other options.
- What about writing on location? If you can’t quite picture the scene you are working on, why not simply go there? Your cowboy’s horse not true to life? Head to down to the racetrack. Your university student sounds more like a twelve-year old? Get on campus.
It can be complacently easy to write in your own house, yet Canberra has so many interesting writing spaces to explore. Get out there and find some new head space!
Have I missed anything obvious? Tell me via a reply and I’ll try it out!
Matthew C Lamb writes crime and other genre fiction, the adventurous stuff he’d like to read. He also blogs about writing and storytelling at www.matthewclamb.com, and has trouble saying no to a good blockbuster movie (when his parenting responsibilities permit). His other desk is in a public service building somewhere, working in law enforcement and national security. Enough fuel for a lifetime’s stories…