Agatha Christie famously did not have a desk. She wrote wherever she could find a stable table-top to lay her typewriter. Hers was an approach, an attitude, that demystifies writing: it is not a mythical, magical act that can only be performed when the wind is blowing west in the early morning light, rather a perfectly natural display of inherent ability.
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The question of where a writer writes fascinates me. In a most un-Christie-an act, I have flown 3,000 miles from London to Dubai to write my second book in the belief I would find the words unless I first found solitude. I have, to an extent, and arguably it has worked: I have written just under 12,000 words in five days.
I have also found that the incessant air cons means most cafes are too cold to write in and that the heat is too intense to write outside. Previous work deadlines remain, friends and family still text, except now I am missing all their birthdays and trying to hold back the tide of work anxiety while also trying to pen a world-beating novel.
The 60+ Riff Raff authors we have interviewed over the last year are divided on the debate between somewhere-vs-anywhere. For authors like Stuart Turton, Laura Purcell and Laura Kaye, it's location, location, location. Turton and Purcell installed themselves in creepy mansions in deference to their books’ settings, while Kaye’s narrative came alive as she tramped the countryside that surrounded her parent’s rural home.
Then there are the authors dedicated to their desks – thought not always. Tor Udall mostly wrote in front of a sprawling inspiration wall that stymied potential buyers when she came to sell her house. Megan Hunter began her novel on a random Sunday afternoon at the kitchen table. Olivia Sudjic tells a brilliant story about a manic writing effort at her desk surrounded by fans, but I’m sure none of these authors would define their work by where they produced it.
For as many stories as there are in the world, there are different ways to create them. Felicia Yap wrote in different continents. Vanessa Potter dictated notes on long walks. Scoundrels: Volume I, started life as a series of emails between its editors, James Peak and Duncan Crowe.
It is easy to conclude that you should ‘Write where’s right for you’ but I am loathe to do so – it isn’t terribly helpful or insightful for anyone wondering where to find the space to writer.
After five days in the desert of Dubai, I have decided that it is not solitude or absence that has helped me get the words down; it isn’t peace and quiet or escape – don’t come to Dubai hoping for either. It is boredom. I have come somewhere where there is nothing else for me – a financially challenged, pale-skinned, wannabe writer – to do.
Have I been struck by inspiration here that I might not have otherwise at home? I will never know though I suspect a lot of the ideas I’ve had were inside me all along. What I have found by writing somewhere is that I have been able to focus. Boredom means less distraction, and a time constraint (I am here for two weeks) means I have to get on with it. These two weeks are a luxury and I don’t want to waste them.
So here’s my advice: don’t worry about whether you write best somewhere, or anywhere – many bad books have derived from both. If you find a place you write best of all, brilliant, but if you are a writer, it’s all in your head, the words, and the fear that you won’t be able to find them. I shall be returning home as a convert to the power of writing anywhere, something I have only gleaned as a result of thinking I need to find the perfect place to write.
Bore yourself, then force yourself. Find the place where you can do both, whether that's a cold café, a dusty desert or a very stable table-top.