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✍️ Get Thee to a Vineyardy!
Or, How to Build Your Everywhere Office
“Nothing good was ever written in a large room.”
This David McCullough quote is a semi-famous in certain circles. For the record, I’m not sure I buy this. Fitzgerald wrote most of The Great Gatsby (at least the version we read today) at the Villa Marie in southern France. And by all the pictures I’ve ever seen, there can’t be a small room in the house.
There is also filmed evidence of Fitzgerald writing outside – and how much bigger of a room can you get than that? (On the other hand, this could very well be a staged promotional video. I can see Fitzgerald wanting his MTV…)
The point here is that David McCullough believes small rooms are necessary. And who am I to disagree with a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author?
McCullough believes it so strongly that he has his own writing shack called “the bookshop” in the backyard of his house in Martha’s Vineyard. It contains, according to The Paris Review, “primarily a Royal typewriter, a green banker’s lamp, and a desk”. The article also notes what the shed doesn’t have, such as a telephone and running water. To avoid being snuck up on, McCullough asks all visitors (if they must visit, I presume) to whistle while on the path to signal their approach.
How perfect is this? The romance of it is enough to make you squeal with glee! A shed. In the woods. In the backyard. On Martha’s Vineyard no less! A little path, a little typewriter, and a little peace and quiet. Wow, the work I’d get done there!
Maybe someday when we sell over nine million copies of something as McCullough has, we’ll be able to afford an island writing space like his that is the picture of “simplicity and modesty”. But until we sell those nine million copies, we first need to find somewhere else to write. Luckily, we can create the perfect vineyardy writing retreat, if only in our minds…
But First, Coffee (Shops)
I write full time for a living from home, so for me an office is a necessity. But I do have experience with writing in other places including out in public.
One of the downsides of having a home office is that you’re often stuck all by yourself. As a natural introvert who’s happy with my own company, that’s not really a problem. But sometimes, I just need to get away. Usually that means a coffee shop. And usually that means I end up staring at the comings and goings of others having a much more productive day than I…
It got me to wondering: Is there a way to build your own creative – and productive – space that works almost anywhere you are?
And that’s where the idea for the Everywhere Office came from.
How to Build Your Everywhere Office
The Everywhere Office is exactly what it sounds like: a portable office that you can set up and use in a coffee shop, on a train, in a library – anywhere life takes you. Of course, we can’t carry around with us four walls and a door to close. But we can find ways of using technology and ingenuity to close ourselves off from the world – at least enough to get some good work done.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Laptop or notepad and pencils/pen
Headphones (not earbuds)
Hat with brim
Choice of music
Your inspirational trinkets
A corner booth, a quiet floor of a library, a snug, or a blank wall to face
Your phone on Airplane Mode
Coffee, tea, wine, cookies, and/or whatever writer fuel that gets you there
Let’s delve into that list a bit deeper.
This is pretty obvious. You can’t write without tools. If you are writing with pencil, sharpen 10 or 20 or so rather than bring a sharpener with you. That way, you spend less time stalling and more time writing! If you’re writing with a pen, bring several in case one or two die. Bring your laptop cord so you can plugin if the battery starts to die.
In this case, I mean “headphones” literally. Not earbuds. Big, honking, over-the-ears headphones that would make a 70’s disco roller skater proud. They don’t have to be expensive, but they do have to be large. Not only do huge headphones help enclose your world better by keeping outside sounds out, they are a big visual cue that says, “Don’t bug me – I’m writing!” Noise-cancelling headphones are best, but only work if you’re listening to music (see below) or some other type of audio.
3. Hat with Brim
The brim part is pretty important. When you pull the brim down, it physically closes you off from the world like blinders on a racehorse. That means you are less likely to be caught by distractions in a busy environment like a coffee shop. It’s also another social cue to keep people from bothering you. (AND, it has the added bonus of cutting down on hair-brushing time before you head out the door to write…!)
4. Choice of Music
If you have those big honking headphones on, you might as well play some music! Many writers write with music already. But if you’re not one of them, give it a try. Aside from anything else, it’s another way to help keep the outside noises from invading your space, especially if you’re using noise-cancelling headphones. If you find lyrics distracting as some do, there are many instrumental playlists to choose from like this one on Spotify.
5. Your Inspirational Trinkets
Do you have any little knick-knacks you use for fun and inspiration while writing? Bring along your desk buddy, your good luck charms, your writing mascot! I have had several over the years, including dimes, LEGO figurines, and a minature Eiffel Tower when I’m in a particularly Parisian mood… Those plastic plants that became all the Zoom rage after COVID struck are also eminently portable. A “To Write with Wild Abandon” Inspirational Postcard is also a great go-to – you can get your free postcard here.
6. Face a Wall or Corner
Our natural tendency when we sit down in a public place is to face outward to see as many people as possible. The opposite strategy will help us see as few people as possible! Try to get corner booths as far away from others as possible. Quiet places like libraries and other tucked-away public spaces are also great if you can find them. If you keep looking in your city or town, you’ll eventually find the ideal place for you.
7. Silence Your Phone
This should be obvious, too. Leave it at home if possible. Leave it in your pocket or in your bag if you must have it. And, if at all possible, turn it onto Airplane Mode so you are not even tempted by buzzes.
8. Fuel Your Words
Coffee, a bite to eat, or some other food and drink all help you keep your focus. Drinking and/or eating can also be part of your ritual to get you into the writing mindset. It’s hard to write on an empty stomach!
A final word on your Everywhere Office: these tactics can work at home too if you have a busy house and no office to hide in. The same goals apply: you’re closing yourself off from the world around you so you can concentrate solely on the page in front of you.
No matter how large the room you’re writing in, your Everywhere Office can help you close off the world around you so that you can focus solely on the page in front of you.
What’s Your Go-to Object in Your Everywhere Office?
Have I missed anything? Do you have anything in your Everywhere Office that helps you get some good work done? Do you have a writing shack on Martha’s Vineyard already that I can use sometime? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, please let me know in the comments below!
Until next time, scroll down to watch Fitzgerald rocking some Gatsby on his back lawn. And keep writing with wild abandon!