• Oh, the Places You’ll Write!

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 14 comments

    TL;DR version: This week I’m wondering about the strangest place at/in which you’ve ever written. Where was it, how did it happen, did it work for you, and did you ever return? Spoiler alert: Mine is either in the middle of a graveyard or in the cereal aisle of a Charlestown, Massachusetts, grocery store. What’s yours? Let us know below.


    Sometimes inspiration comes in the most unlikely places. When that happens, are you prepared to pursue it?

    Like most writers, I have some go-to writing spots: two particular benches in Riverside Park; a favorite bar, dark and quiet during the day, darker and quieter at night; a specific seat at a specific Dunkin’ Donuts chain. The loft at my parents’ house. The Esplanade whenever I’m in Boston.

    These are places where I can sit still and write, while occasionally looking up to observe the things happening around me.

    But I also favor writing while in motion: trains in particular, but also buses, subways, airplanes. Even cars. I’m sitting still and writing, but I’m also moving. I observe things happening around me, but that scenery changes because I’m also in motion.

    Luckily I’m prone to neither motion nor immotion (not a word) sickness.

    Your turn: Do you prefer to write while sitting still or while being in motion?


    Boneyard Inspiration

    It can be difficult to write in a setting we’re uncomfortable with.

    (It can also be difficult to write in a setting we’re too comfortable with. I have a really hard time writing at home, for example.)

    But every now and then I’ll find myself pulling my notebook out in a place I would have never expected.

    I used to live in Boston’s North End, at the bottom of Copp’s Hill. Often I would walk through the graveyard there, squatting down to make out the faded inscriptions on those centuries-old tombstones.

    One day, a phrase — I wish I remembered it — on a tomb gave me an idea for a poem. Maybe one of four times in my life I’ve had an idea for a poem. I had my notebook along with me, and a favorite coffee shop just a block away.

    Instead, I plopped right down on top of that grave and wrote a super weird poem I never shared and will never share with anyone.

    It was so peaceful, overlooking the harbor, far from any heavily trafficked street and pathway. Tourists wandered through the cemetery, but I was off the trail and in a rarely visited section. It didn’t strike me then as odd, writing a poem about a gravestone while I sat six feet above the bones of the stone’s subject. (At least in theory. Remains in that graveyard have been moved around so much.)

    Looking back, that’s one of the strangest places I’ve ever written.

    Your turn: What’s better for your writing, comfort or discomfort?


    Dear Johnnie

    Another: In a long-ago short story, I had a scene set in a grocery store. This was also when I lived in Boston, but the story was set in suburbia and the grocery store was one of those massive Wal-Mart-sized box stores. Meanwhile, people in my neighborhood had access only to convenience stores and 7-Elevens and small independent grocers and delis.

    So I walked to the nearest giant grocery store. It was in Charlestown, across a very long bridge spanning the Charles, and through several questionable Chuck-Town neighborhoods. It took me about forty-five minutes to get there.

    Once I did, I walked around with a basket (for show, I picked up a few things) and took notes on what I saw. The cereal aisle overwhelmed me: the selection, the colors, the various mascots aimed to grab the attention of sugar-hungry kids. It seemed to me that one could sample a different cereal every single day of the year and not repeat.

    So I envisioned my scene taking place in the cereal aisle.

    And then I sat on the floor of that Johnnie’s Foodmaster — long since closed and turned into a *#^*&$ Whole Foods — and wrote a draft of that scene.

    That was weird.

    I’ve written at MLB baseball games. Movie theaters, during a film! The spots are coming to me one by one. I once took some notes during a concert at a bar in Austin while my companions WTF’d me and each other.

    This is why I try to always have my notebook on me, even though it often makes me feel pretentious and twee.

    My memory is so bad that I can’t at all trust myself to remember ideas and notes as they come to me.

    Your turn: What’s the strangest place you’ve purposefully taken yourself to in order to write?


    What About You?

    There’s no lesson to impart here. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.

    I’m simply reminiscing in a blog post.

    And wondering how you operate.

    Your turn: Where do you write? And when? Do you have favorite spots or do you try to change scenery? Can you write at home? Why or why not?

    And what is the strangest place you’ve ever written? How did it happen? Were you successful? And did you ever return?

    Let us know this and more in the comments below!


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and writes about literature for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Jill-Ayn Martin

    I too carry a notebook wherever I go. I’ve written in a Walmart parking lot, waiting for my hubby to find his latest DVD. Lots of people-watching to do there! I’ve written in doctor’s offices, at coffee shops, parks, libraries, you name it, and I’ve written there. People don’t bother me. I like the background noise.

    David Duhr

    I imagine there are some curious things to see if you hang around long enough in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I have this odd attraction to writing in shopping malls, especially around the holidays. The bustling shoppers, the workers, the piped in music and smells, the food courts, random seating areas. No windows anywhere. Malls are so weird.

    John Liebling

    Two for Juan! Because I want to lose weight and my bum knee prevents hard core pounding – I walk. Many people walk in packs. Or they blast music. I don’t. I am alone with my thoughts. And when I am not thinking about family, friends, and world events – I think about my writing – specifically my second book. In the past, when I was working on new ideas for my first book, and I knew a great idea would vanish before I walked home, I’d jot down those ideas in a tiny hand held – very old school… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hey John. Like we’ve always said, thinking about your writing is *almost* as important as time spent writing. So those long walks, working through plot problems and character development and all that, is essentially the same as sitting down and putting words on the page.

    So those walks? Keep ’em up.

    (And the note-taking at the doctor’s office, and during those other breaks in the day, etc.)

    Diana Rangel

    I eat out alone quite often. I always carry my notebook and if I’ve changed purses and forget, there’s always my phone to take notes.
    What I do is listen in on people’s conversations and let me tell you I walk away with some great ideas for stories! People sometimes don’t realize that they’re in a public place and someone could actually be listening . So while they’re talking, I’m writing away!

    David Duhr

    Yes! People talk about and say some bizarre things, so keeping an ear open is always a great idea. Perhaps especially at restaurants, like you mention. Something about the intimacy of a meal makes us feel comfortable talking as if we were alone, rather than surrounded by other diners, some of them mere inches away. Think about the person sitting in the booth behind you, his/her back to your back. That person is nearer to you than the person you’re eating with!

    Jeaniene Bonner Davis

    I write best in the solitude of Spirit in thankfulness! That usually occurs in the wee hours of morning between 3 to 6am. Before I turn on the news and tune into self which blinds and deafens the fertile soil of my seed! I’m in full bloom before the world accousts my heart and thoughts with their illusions of reality. Yes I’m one of those, who gleam from the the goodness of yesterdays,today and tommorows. I encourage the process of loving life through the lense of embracing each day with exhilerating fervor to write in the midst of Wisdom, Joy,… Read more »

    David Duhr

    I like to write in the morning too, before anything else can intrude. Ideally before I even think about anything I need to do later on, once my day “starts.”

    But 3:00-6:00 a.m. My goodness, that’s dedication!

    Thanks for sharing, Jeaniene.


    God please grant me a table, an internet connection and an outlet to plug in my laptop. Back in the olden days, the pre-laptop/internet days; with a couple of spiral bound notebooks and my stack of reference materials, and my current reading book, I’d be “OSCAR-MIKE,” on the move to an inspiring place to write. However, often I would be confronted with poorly lit, freezing in the blasting air conditioning or with uncomfortable stools that I have a hard time jumping onto….., well then I’d have to retreat to somewhere else less ambitious, like my cozy room at home. If… Read more »

    David Duhr

    I love that New Year’s Day anecdote. I imagine you saw a wide variety of people in varying states of… physical distress. (About to sink themselves further into it, with fast-food burgers.) And probably some people who never made it to bed the night before.

    Keep Oscar-Miking it, buddy.

    Barbara A Mealer

    I write wherever I can set up my computer or use a paper and pencil. (yeah, pencil as I erase things…a lot!) I’ve used the dining room table with head phones to avoid being disturbed, a fold up table in a tent while traveling, a community room at a camp ground, a Starbucks in a grocery store, the cafe at the train station, in the waiting room of an airport, on a plane, during lunch at work….in other words, wherever I am at the time and have up to a half hour to work. It is great being one of… Read more »

    David Duhr

    I’ve long been impressed with your ability to write whenever and wherever you want, in comfort and discomfort. I picture you on a picnic table in the middle of a thunderstorm, shielding the page from the rain as you write, relaxed.

    I’ve never been able to write successfully while listening to music. Do you find that it affects your writing? If not the words themselves, at least the pace? Faster when listening to fast music, slower with slow music, etc.?

    Michelle Reid

    While serving as president of our local quilt guild I was facilitating a board meeting. During an open discussion on upcoming programs, something triggered an idea. I wrote a long paragraph on my agenda notes, to be later transferred into my novel in progress. Later someone commented on the amount of notes I had taken at that meeting, but I don’t even remember the issue we were discussing. I don’t write well at home because I too often succumb to the constant interruptions and think of other things I should or could be doing. My favorite place to write is… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Writing in church. I love that. And pulling over the car to write! I’ve done a lot of thinking lately about “should” and “could.” I have a hard time viewing my writing as something I “should” be doing. There are always other things I “should” be doing instead. Or could be doing. But then when I go through phases where I don’t write, I think to myself “I should be writing more.” It’s so weird. So when I am writing, it feels like something I shouldn’t do; and when I’m not writing, it feels like something I should do. What… Read more »

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