The Places We Write: An Unfinished List
Ashly Bender, Assistant Director
Last week, BookRiot—one of my favorite blogs for literary discussions—posted about the places people read: under a tree, at the beach, in a coffee shop, you know the places. For each place, author Jonathan Streeter rated the aesthetic appeal. For example, reading under a tree is highly aesthetic given its “classic appeal” and prominence in paintings, books, and other forms of art. (Reading “on the throne” was least aesthetic, for obvious reasons.)
Streeter’s blog post got me thinking about the places we write. Much like reading, the cultural conventions around writers and how to write are strong. For centuries, the idea of the writer conjured up images of solitary, often disagreeable, and socially inept individuals (arguably, usually men). Even now, these characteristics often persist. We see it in movies like Shakespeare in Love, where the inspired William Shakespeare runs to his small cluttered apartment to scribble down lines of his upcoming play, or in Stranger than Fiction, where Emma Thompson’s character is portrayed as difficult to get along with. On-screen or in-book writers who frequent coffee shops are just as likely to be seen as solitary. Bronwyn Williams and Amy Zenger offer more critical and thorough insight on this in their book Popular Culture and Representations of Literacy.
Given that this view of writers persists, despite repeated evidence that when we write our content most often comes from interactions with other texts and other people, I want to consider today the places we actually write.
Dorm/Home: Most people who are expecting to be doing consistent writing or studying have a space in their home to work. For many students that place probably their desk in their dorm room. Others who aren’t living in dorms might have an office in their house, or just a desk. Personally, most of the writing I do at home I do in my kitchen because my table is big enough to spread out any books or notes I want to look at while I write. Plus, the food is right there.
Cafes and Bookstores: It makes sense to begin here since I’m currently sitting in a Barnes and Noble Café. While plenty of the other customers are reading, there are at least three other people writing in some form, and based on observation over time, I’d say this is not unusual. I generally prefer coffee shops, but the town I’m in is small and doesn’t have a café that accommodates hours-long customers. The upside to coffee and book shops is that those of us who need to “get out of the house” are able to be productive while still seemingly engaging with the outside world. Plus, there’s always people watching or small talk if you get stuck or need a break.
Libraries: Libraries have always had a particular atmosphere for me: quiet, studious, quiet. You may be getting a sense of why I prefer the coffee shop, but many people love the sense of focus and the lack of distraction that libraries can offer. Plus, many students living on-campus can make temporary homes and offices in the libraries at their universities. In fact, the University of Louisville’s Ekstrom Library is currently renovating to offer more of these spaces. The benefit of being in library, of course, is that if you need to look up a book or an article, you’re already there! I love wandering through the stacks. And, Ekstrom Library also houses the University Writing Center, so if you have any writing questions or want to walk-in for an appointment you don’t have to go to another building—just to the 3rd floor.
Writing Centers: Speaking of the Writing Center… Of course, most of our work is helping students with their writing in consulting appointments, but we also have computers and tables where people can just come in and write. This was one of the important benefits of our Dissertation Writing Retreat, every morning participants had at least four hours to just write before meeting with a consultant.
This list is certainly preliminary and subject to my own experiences. Where else do you write? Where is your favorite place to write? I’ve been known to write on my porch, on an airplane, and even in my car—though not while driving! If you aren’t bound by place, what things do you need to write? Let us know in the comments!