Peace and Quiet and a Place to Write

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: March 20, 2013
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I’ve been wondering for a while about two quirks I’ve noticed in my writing process. One is that even though I’m an almost-full-time writer who works at my desk virtually every weekday, there is one day a week when I do most of my writing—and most of my best writing. It’s Wednesdays, when I go to the Sterling Writers Room at the library downtown. The room has four solid oak desks, four chairs, four lamps and not much else. Use is by application only, the door is locked, and you check in to get a key, so it’s very quiet and very private.  My other big blip productivity-wise is during the Scriva’s writing retreats (we had one recently in Terrebonne, Oregon) where we Scrivas work in parallel in virtual silence for about 10 hours each day. Though only two and a half days long, sometimes I feel like I do about three weeks of work.

Now I think I might know why. I’m reading a fascinating book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  In it she cites a study from a coding competition among computer programmers from different companies (stick with me; this really is relevant to a writing life.) There were huge differences in performances. When the researchers tried to account for the enormous range, all the usual suspects – years of experience, salary, time spent on the project – were irrelevant.  What really mattered: “privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments and freedom from interruption.”

I have a lovely home office that can feel very private, except that it is on the main floor of our house, and near the front door. It is a wonderful personal space, except that chaos from the house can drift in. During school hours, I am mostly free from interruptions, except for the ringing phone, knocks on the door, dirty dishes in the sink, laundry that needs to move from the washer to the drier, etc.  Overall, it’s a good space and I do some good work there. But maybe not my best.

I don’t have much control over the environment of the Sterling Writers Room except for the locked door. But the room is lovely and it is a place where I choose to work, so it does feel like I have control. And it has privacy, personal space and freedom from interruption in spades. I’m in there all day, mostly alone, and I can go 6-10 hours without uttering a word to anyone.

You might think the writing retreats would not fit the bill. It’s usually four to eight women all in one house together. Not very private. Yet it feels private, because we all nestle into a chosen work space (personal space) where we stay most of the day. Though we adore each other, we don’t talk during the day. Someone puts out breakfast, someone puts out lunch, and we break at an agreed-upon time for dinner. Otherwise, we work quietly and separately – without interruption.

According to Cain’s book, I may not be alone in my need for privacy, personal space, control of my environment, and freedom from interruption.  How do these factors affect the quality of your writing or your productivity? Do you have these elements in your writing life? Or is there somewhere interesting you go to get them?

Elizabeth Rusch

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  1. this post is quoted by Goodbye, Facebook « Viva Scriva says:

    […] to do first and most is to write. And to write, one needs the spaciousness of silence: not just a quiet room (as ScrivaLiz wrote about), but a quiet mind. For me, technology invades that at every chance. Even when I avoid it, I often […]

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