Where I Write: A Retrospective

A few weeks back I wrote a post for Writing.ie about where I write, which at the time was a cubicle I’d just moved into in a shared office in Cork City centre. This was the fourth different place I’d worked in since I started taking this scribbling thing seriously back in autumn 2009 and, I thought, going to be the most successful by far. But would you believe, I have moved yet again. Having to have just the perfect place to write is like coal in the steam engine of my procrastination, so I swear, this is it. No, really. It is. No more moves, just words. Lots of them. Thousands per day, if possible. In the meantime, I thought I’d take you on a quick tour of all the places I’ve been writing…

By the Seaside

When I first quit working full-time to concentrate on writing—without even a smell of publishing success in any form and so, not recommended!—I promptly relocated myself to a holiday cottage near the sea in East Cork. It was October/November 2009, low season and utterly freezing, and so I got a gorgeous little home for a steal. The idea wasn’t my own: I’d read in an interview that crime writer Alex Barclay had done the same thing (i.e. take advantage of holiday homes in the off season) while she was writing her first novel. I’d come downstairs every morning around nine-thirty, turn on the coffee machine and then sit at the dining table to write, uninterrupted, until seven or eight o’clock at night. And it really was uninterrupted; the TV had only 3 or 4 non-static-filled channels, and there was no internet. Bliss. The bad news: I’ve never been quite as productive since.

In The Bedroom

Returning home from time abroad, quitting your only source of income and dedicating yourself to making your unlikely dreams come true required, in my case, moving back in with my parents. They were delighted (!), as you can imagine—but not as delighted as I was to go from the sizeable apartment in Orlando I shared with Andrea (with pool access and a patio that overlooked the Seaworld fireworks) back to the box room I’d grown up in, made even smaller now by possessions and a few more inches of me.  But the rent was a steal…

There was far too much of this… 

Somewhere Nice

The bedroom was fine for a while, but by the end of summer 2011 I was really starting to feel like the walls were closing in one me. I’d finished Mousetrapped, written Backpacked and Self-Printed, built an online platform and self-published all my books from one corner of my tiny room, but now I was feeling a bit cabin feverish, as if the walls were closing in. I needed a change of scenery for a while. Back to the little cottage by the seaside, perhaps? Maybe, but with the typical Irish autumn of wind, rain and grey, it might not make me feel any better. What I really needed was some sunshine… and that’s how I hit upon the idea of renting a holiday home abroad.

... and not nearly enough of this. (This being working, not blogging—and not staring longingly out at the sun, either!)

October/November was low season in Nice, France, too, and I got the most beautiful apartment only a ten minute walk from Nice’s famed promenade and picturesque Old Town. This time I was writing at a dining table in a sunny room, the smell of basil drifting in the French doors from the balcony. Utter bliss.

Sadly, the beach, the coffee shops and the free wi-fi proved a bit of a distraction and I wasn’t exactly working ten to eight like I’d done back in East Cork… Still, though, it was totally worth it. I mean, come on. The Cote D’Azur for six weeks? Yes, please!

Office Space

My Nice memories held me over for a while, but a couple of months back I started feeling really cabin feverish again. More so, I missed having somewhere to go. Being able to fall out of bed and work in your sweats all day was fun for a while, but now I actually started to miss having somewhere to go where I got up in the morning. I also wanted to start taking this writing thing very seriously, which meant doing it in an office instead of a place where re-runs of Oprah are never too far away. I did some research, and discovered that in recession-hit Ireland, office space is pretty cheap. I ended up renting a “hot desk”, i.e. a serviced desk in a shared office, and fell in love with the set-up on Day 1—especially after I discovered there was free coffee on tap all day long…

Home Again

But only five weeks after I moved into my new cubicle, my circumstances changed: an opportunity arose to take a part-time job a few evenings a week. Since I figured the only thing it’d be cutting into was my TV-watching time and it would help with my next goal—the purchase of a shiny new computer as this one is on its last legs—I took it. But now it was harder to find time to get into the office and if I did have a few hours to write, did I really want to waste at least an hour and a half of that time making myself look presentable enough to leave the house and sitting on a bus once I did? No, not really. So I decided to move back into my room, but with a twist.

Or two twists, rather. The first thing I did is rent a storage unit and put as much of my stuff as I could into it, including practically all my books. This left my room pretty empty, and not as claustrophobia-inducing as it might once have been. I put back in some nice things I got in IKEA, moved some other stuff around and ended up with a really nice space I can write in.

All it’s missing now is a coffee machine…

32 thoughts on “Where I Write: A Retrospective

  1. Frankie Valente says:

    I thought about renting a place to myself for a week or so. I even found two absolutely gorgeous bijou little places – one in Orkney and another in Shetland, both costing just £200 for a week and neither had wifi – which I now think is the key to my productivity.

    But for some bizarre reason I found myself checking out places in warmer climes and have booked a place in Sicily for mid-October when it won’t be so hot. Already feel a new novel forming…

    Never thought about hot-desking – so thanks for that gem of an idea!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I found my apartment on homeaway.co.uk (I think that’s the address). They have listings pretty much everywhere and if you can travel in the off season, you might find a bargain for yourself!

  2. helddesign says:

    I have the same problem, I’m a freelance designer and writer and can count park benches, beds, shared desks and the beach amongst my many offices. Always think it’d be a great idea to get a few freelancers together to share a space. There must be more of us out there!!

  3. Kiya Krier - Runs With Blisters says:

    I LOVE this idea of photographing the places where you write! I may just have to steal that… And what a gorgeous room in Nice.

  4. Hege says:

    I should do the opposite of Nice, go somewhere cool now that summer has come to Costa del Sol. It´s hard to focus when you feel you really should be in the pool, not in a warm living room!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      What I did (or tried to do!) in Nice was either write really early in the morning or in the evening after dark, leaving the majority of the daytime hours to enjoy the sun. No point trying to resist; you have to work around it! 🙂

  5. darlenecraviotto says:

    I loved the guided tour. The most interesting “office” I ever worked in was a storage unit. It was perfect for writing: no windows. The thing about writing is that when the words are coming out of you it never matters where you’re doing it.

  6. MarinaSofia says:

    I too am obsessed with writing space, or am using it as an excuse for procrastination. I know that if I am really on a roll I shouldn’t care where I write, but….
    For a while, after our most recent move, I had no desk, no shelves for my books, no drawers, nothing, just a narrow, awkwardly shaped little room to call my study. So that was a most unproductive period, until I managed to furnish it. And I LOVE looking at famous writers’ offices. I wrote some more about this obsession with personal space and what an impact it has on my writing on my blog:

  7. lettersfromawhoremongerswife says:

    I’ve been thinking if spending a few days in St. Augustine for a bit of motivation….it’s true it doesn’t matter where I am as long as the words are coming forth, but sand and sea are always motivators for me!

  8. Lily Paradis says:

    I loved this post! I find it interesting how the writing can be different based on where you are when you write it! I’m having the same problem with the cluttered room and the walls closing in around me, so lately I’ve had to retreat to the nearest Starbucks to see what I can get done there!

  9. D. Bryant Simmons says:

    I’m so jealous. I want to roam around. But no, I’m chained to this desktop … in the city I was born in … living with my mother. No pretty views. No exotic destinations. 😦

  10. elskenewman says:

    I dream of one day having a dedicated writing room where I write all my novels, but as so far I have written a total of 0 novels this might never happen, but a girl has to have a dream right?

  11. Keri Peardon says:

    Oh, you make me cry. I lived in Kilkenny in the summer of 2001, and Ireland became my home; I’ve been homesick ever since I left.

    I can’t decide if my future writing cottage should overlook the Cliffs of Moher, or if I should have it in Connemara–where I can pipe the bog water straight into my house (best water I’ve ever had in my life, I drank straight from a pool in Connemara).

  12. Rory says:

    I like going to the computer lab at the university. I do work there after all! It makes me feel similar to when I was in school. It is quiet, the computers are top notch, and tons of young people for inspiration.

  13. Raventide Books says:

    We work in our bedroom. One half is for writing, the other half for sleeping. When we actually go out [as in, out of the bedroom] to eat, we find ourselves wishing our computers doubled as stove tops and microwaves.

  14. Laura Roberts (@originaloflaura) says:

    Two questions after reading this:
    1. What’s your favorite brand of coffee?
    2. Do you have a strategic marketing plan where you do a certain number of things, or certain types of things, every day with a checklist or are you a bit more “organic” about your marketing?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I have *loads* of favorite brands of coffee. When I was in the States it was Eight O’Clock, and here (in Ireland) it tends to be Robert Roberts or an Arpeggio Nespresso capsule. I love trying new coffee though so I never stick with the same for very long!

      To answer your second question, good god no. There’s no checklist or plan or anything like that. I might be a bit organized if I’ve a book coming out but on a day to day basis, I don’t do anything on purpose! ;-D

  15. Emi says:

    I’m so envious of you right now! That looks awesome and pretty much what I want to do (except I don’t really have the option to move back in with the parents so I’ll have to keep up an income until I’m rich! ha)

  16. Graeme Ing says:

    Great article. I’ve often thought of taking a couple of weeks off work, renting a remote cottage and just writing, but I think my wife would complain if I turned into a hermit, even for so short a time. Maybe one day.

  17. Cynthia Briggs says:

    Here in Houston, Texas, where it’s really hot and humid (so much that my sunglasses steam up every time I leave an air conditioned area to go outside), I long for the scenic array of writing spaces you’ve enjoyed, especially the seaside.

    But honestly, for me, I find the internet, telephone and television are my main time wasters, or maybe I should say “my choice of procrastination vehicles,” which prove to be deadly to my productivity. Why do we do this to ourselves as writers when it feels SO good to complete a well written piece?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I’ve never written as much as I did in that house by the seaside, and I know it was because there was only one tiny pocket of internet connection, which was at the very top of the stairs if I stood on my tip-toes. Freedom (for Mac, not sure if it’s out for Windows but I bet there’s an equivalent if not) shuts off your internet connection for a specific period and can only be overturned by restarting your computer. I find that helps a bit.

  18. katmaxwell says:

    I’ve tried coffee shops, libraries, and outside on the lawn, but my absolute favorite place to write is on the couch in my living room! Great post!

  19. Judith Briles says:

    Congratulations on the new spot! I also find myself trying many places to write and even read books. But, one thing is for sure. Home is where I love the most.

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