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Find Your Perfect Place for Journaling

Where do you write? Do you prefer the serene silence of a library? A secluded corner of your home? Or perhaps you’re like me and you require a steady environmental buzz in order to get the writerly juices flowing.

If your journaling locale does not meet your needs, you’ll eventually stop writing. So let’s talk about how to find you the perfect spot to park your fine self for journaling.

Solitary Confinement

For a couple of years I rented a studio workspace a few miles from my apartment. I thought it would be the perfect writing solution because I had total control over my environment. No barking dogs, no noisy neighbors, no dishes in the sink calling my name. I would be blissfully alone, removed from the distractions and obligations of everyday life.

I painted the walls of my studio purple and filled every inch of the space with books, journals, crafting supplies, and my piano. My favorite CDs were playing on the stereo, and piles of decadent pillows offered comfy lounging. It was a fabulous space.

And I rarely wrote there.

Why? Because removing the distractions made me feel so isolated that it depressed the hell out of me.

I loved my studio and I’d often go there to play the piano, or think, or have long phone conversations while hanging out the window looking at the Ballard sunset. I’d ponder life beneath the glimmering lights of the abandoned bathtub factory next door.

But writing? Not so much.

Back to Coffee Central

Having that space made me realize a couple of things.

Despite popular belief, having a room of one’s own is not necessary.
In fact, it can be counterproductive. I could’ve written volumes with the hours I spent painting, setting up, and tinkering with my little studio.

I cannot write productively at home for any length of time.
There are too many distractions. My cat is ridiculously needy. The bathroom is the only room in my apartment with a door, and she scratches at it frantically when closed. Also, a sink full of dishes is famous for derailing any writing attempt. It’s amazing how as soon as I sit down to write, my apartment is suddenly – urgently! – in need of… something. Anything.

I need to be around people. Preferably, people I don’t know.
The need for company surprised me because I’d always assumed having total isolation would be the answer. But in reality, I dreaded going into solitary confinement and being locked away in that room where nobody new I existed. Purple walls or not.

So I returned to writing in cafes. A good café fits almost every requirement I have, though some fit better than others. They are one-stop solutions: food, drink, caffeine, bathrooms, and wi-fi. No reason to leave!

If your town has a café or two, try writing there and see if it works for you. I consider myself lucky: I live in Seattle, and there are eleven cafes within five blocks of my apartment.

Finding Your Perfect Place

Here are some of the criteria to keep in mind when searching for the perfect journal writing destination:

Privacy

Your journaling spot must provide adequate privacy or you’ll be unable to truly let go and dig deep. Once I secure a table at a cafe, I have all the privacy I need. I just make sure to select a table in a corner or with ample space around me. One of the many blessings of city life: strangers ignore one another. And nobody I do know is crazy enough to be at the cafe at 6:30 AM.

Volume

Other sounds in your environment should be at a comfortable level for you. Some people can’t concentrate in a library but find their focus amid chaos. You can also invest in a good pair of headphones and crank up your iPod if that works for you.

Cafes are usually filled with a perfect low-grade rumble of conversation, clinking of cups, the banging of the espresso machine, squealing of the milk steamer. There’s rarely one conversation that pipes up above the rest. Although one of the cafes I used to frequent had lots of impromptu business meetings with fleets of suits primping and strutting, trying to outdo one another. I stopped going there.

Interruptions/Distractions

If you fear being interrupted, it’ll be hard to let the flow of writing take you away. Same with distractions. I’m part crow and easily distracted (“Bright shiny things!!”). Your chosen writing environment should minimize these temptations. You need to be able to concentrate.

Comfort

Chair, table, temperature all need to be comfy enough to let you focus on your writing and not the fact that your behind is falling asleep.

I need cushy seating that can stay comfortable for hours on end. Many trendy cafes opt for pretty seating that’s highly unusable. Perhaps their business model depends on high turnover, which makes financial sense. But if my tush is asleep or my back hurts after twenty minutes, I’m crossing that cafe off my list.

Availability

Your chosen place should be open during the hours you’ll likely be writing. I love writing at the library but they don’t even keep banker’s hours. It’s only open for a couple of hours on weekends, and it’s never open early in the morning. So the library doesn’t work for me. My cafes of choice open at 5 AM and stay open until 11PM, long after I’m in bed.

Accessibility

If you have to drive across town every time you want to write, you probably won’t do it as often. Find a place that’s easy to get to and requires little planning. If you drive, predictable parking is key.

Interaction/Isolation

You may prefer total isolation when writing. Or you may do your best work in the company of friends. I prefer somewhere in the middle.

The more comfortable your chosen writing place, the more you’ll write. Try out different locations and see what works best for you.

Do you already have a favorite place to write? Do tell!

12 comments

  1. I can write pretty much anywhere, but usually it is at night that I feel I am at my best, the words flow. I think it is because all of the other distractions of the day have been completed, or at least put off until tomorrow, and then I can let my mind wander.
    Your blog is wonderful!

    • Thanks Mrs. Mediocrity! I definitely feel most creative at night. If I journal after dark, my writing has a totally different vibe. It’s more colorful, too. I definitely think it’s for the reason you said – the distractions of the day have been completed. My morning writing is all about the upcoming distractions. Which works well for practical purposes, but I think it’s great to engage that other wandering part of my brain, too!

  2. I have rarely journaled in public, but I do know that when there’s people sitting around I stay more focused so I don’t find myself staring at them! ;-D

    My best place is in bed right before I snuggle down, but the hubby has to either be already asleep, or not in bed yet. That’s where my challenge is. Maybe I should start carrying my journal around with me? I’m noticing that half the challenge of journaling is developing the ritual and time for me…

    • Joni – I definitely find more time to write when I carry my journaling around with me. The ritual helps me enormously – I often find myself looking forward to the time I’ve set aside specifically for writing.

  3. Most of the time I journal in the evening in my recliner in the bedroom. My hubby is usually next to me in his recliner reading. So I’m not alone. Which is fine by me. I enjoy conversation, even when I journal. Sometimes I write in my journal at my desk next to my bed if it’s something important that can’t wait til the evening. I usually enjoy the comfort of being able to put my feet up when I write in my journal, so I’m completely relaxed. It’s something I look forward to.

  4. This entry made me think about how I journal. I’ve long admired your dedication and ability to write in cafes and other public places. I guess I’m part crow too, because I can’t focus when anything is going on around me. It’s funny that your next post is about electronic journaling because that was what I was going to mention. Several years ago, I found myself in an apartment with almost no personal space, with a roommate whom I didn’t exactly trust with my innermost thoughts. While lamenting this one day, I found a spot on Oprah’s website (of all places) that offered an “Online Journal”! I loved it because I could access it anywhere and I knew that it was password protected.
    I really, really missed the paper versions though and often bought, started, and then shelved paper journals with only two or three entries in them, and went back to Oprah. (Who, btw, removed everything we’d archived about two years ago; so I lost about 8 years-worth of journaling!) It was a wonderful way to keep my private stuff private, and had the bonus of making me look really busy at work as I type-type-typed away.
    It has only been recently that brought back the paper. Think it’s for good this time! Hope so, anyway!

    • Kerry – that’s so terrible about Oprah taking away the archived journals! GUH. That’s one downside I failed to mention in the post – the fact that storing your entries off-site leaves you at the mercy of the hosting company. If Blogger goes under, or Penzu gets hacked, or Oprah decides to do away with online journaling, you lose all your stuff. What a bummer!

  5. I do my best journaling sitting in the car! It would be a little easier if I had a little drop down table! But I love sitting in the car when the weather is nice. I wish I could find a little cafe to journal in, that would be wonderful!