• Writers’ Room of Boston

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    By Nico Vreeland

    Boston skylineI’ve always been susceptible to non-traditional–not to say gimmicky–methods of increasing my writing output (at one point in the early 2000s, I had both a portable typewriter and a four-line word processor, but no laptop). To this day, I’m still not sure what kind of system fits me best, although I’m much more settled than I was a decade ago, largely because I’ve spent the better part of that decade experimenting with different setups.

    One of those setups was a subscription I held for about a year at the Writers’ Room of Boston. The Writers’ Room is a great idea executed well, but whether or not it works for you is a matter of your own best working methods and your other options.

    First, a description of the Writers’ Room. It’s on the fifth floor of a small building on State Street in downtown Boston, the heart of the Financial District. It consists primarily of a large room with ten desks in cubicles. There’s also a reading area, a kitchen, a lounge with wired Internet connections, and storage space for each member. To gain access you have to apply, describing your project and sitting for an interview, and you now pay $300-350 a quarter, or $100-120 a month. There’s a strict silence-only rule in the writing room, and you can opt to use the WiFi password or not. Essentially, it’s a no-frills office for writers.

    (The WROB also does events that help you meet other writers and make it easy to become part of the community, and the screening process helps ensure that that community is a good one.)

    At the time I belonged, I loved it. There’s a significant psychological advantage to getting on the subway and going to an office space, namely that you start treating your writing like a job. Of course, there’s also a downside to that: if you commute instead of writing in your kitchen, you spend extra time just getting to your desk, and it naturally becomes less flexible–just like a job.

    If you don’t have a proper office in your house (I was living in a studio at the time), a writers room can be a great help in terms of resources, as well as offering that psychological advantage. But now that I have a dedicated office (with floor-to-ceiling whiteboards), I can’t really justify $100 a month for another desk.

    There’s also the question of attitude toward the Internet. The Writers’ Room of Boston gives you the option of using the WiFi or blocking yourself from using it. I chose to block myself, and I think that was a huge mistake, at least for me.

    These days, I use the Pomodoro technique. Essentially, instead of trying to force myself to work for 6-8 straight hours (or more realistically, 3-5), the Pomodoro technique advises working in bursts, and training yourself to work for longer and take fewer breaks. You might start working for twenty minutes and taking a twenty-minute break, then work your way up to working for 55 minutes and taking a five-minute break.

    I use the Self-Control app to shut down my Internet for a set period of time (and you can even shut down only certain websites) and the timer app Concentrate to set my work and break lengths.

    Of course, none of that is intrinsic to the WROB, and such a method would be easy to execute there.

    Ultimately a writing setup is only as good as your output while using it. If you have to be in a treehouse facing east in order to get anything done, then that’s valuable to you. If you can write well and prolifically while watching Sportscenter in bed (I don’t believe you), then you don’t need so much as a spare corner to set up a desk.

    There are also, however, a few objective elements to setting up a good workspace. If you don’t have to commute, you’ll have more time. Standing is physically healthier than sitting.

    And there also are a few elements that land somewhere between objective and subjective benefits. Most people won’t work well with a lot of audio or visual stimulation, but some swear by music or even TV. Most people do well to have a designated workspace that’s separate from your living and/or sleeping space, but some feel good writing in five-minute jags, wherever they happen to be.

    Ultimately the necessity of a writers room depends on how much you value a community, and whether your other options (like a home office) are a) in existence and b) working well for you. As such things go, I can’t imagine a better writers room than the one in Boston, but even an outstanding room might not hold all the answers.

    Nico Vreeland lives and writes in Boston.

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