Location, Location, Location

This post is not so much about writing per se, but about the location in which one feels most comfortable writing.

Over the past few months I’ve read a couple of books on the topic of dissertating and writing in general. One of these books (I can’t remember which), suggested that you carve out a specific spot for your writing, be this on the couch, desk, coffee shop, etc. The familiar surroundings, this author argued, can help to send your brain into “writing mode.” This is not unlike the advice often given to insomniacs: “Train yourself to sleep in your bed by not doing anything else there – don’t eat, drink, read, journal, etc.”

When I first started graduate school, I needed to be in some sort of public place in order to get any work done (generally a coffee shop). Working from home was absolutely impossible — too many distractions, I’m sure — and the library was only somewhat helpful. When I sat down with my cup of coffee, however, things started moving. This more or less continued for years.

Last summer, something about my work habits changed. I was in the middle of studying for qualifying exams, and out of sheer force of necessity, I needed to learn how to study and write anywhere. I needed to work every day for around 6-8 hours, and I could simply not afford (financially) to spend all of that time in the coffee shop. After a couple of weeks, I found myself dividing time between home, the coffee shop, and my research carrel at school. Surprisingly, I found that my productivity in all of those places was starting to increase.

I’ve continued to divide my time between home, the library, and the occasional coffee shop. In the past few months I’ve advised the younger graduate students in our program to learn how to work everywhere, and to not convince themselves that they “can’t get anything done at home.” Being able to work anywhere, I think, saves you time in the long run (i.e. you don’t need to go to the coffee shop if you find yourself with two free hours on a Saturday).

I’m of course sure that this is not universally good advice, and I’m curious to hear what others think.

Do you find that limiting your work space to one location enhances your focus or do you work well in multiple spaces?

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