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Writing in a Hotel Room: The Perfect Place to Write

Posted in creativity, discipline, finding time to write, Learning to Write, Productivity for creatives, prolific writer, Writing a novel, writing in hotel rooms, and Writing Tips

writing in a hotel room

A Writing Retreat

I’m writing this post in a hotel room. And I’m in this hotel room just to write. I’m not on holiday. I’m not a tourist. I’m not visiting friends. On the contrary, the “do not disturb” sign is positioned permanently on the outer handle of the door, and I am studiously avoiding all human contact. There’s something about writing in a hotel room, you know.

When to Write in a Hotel Room

I realize, on reflection, this is something I tend to do at a very particular stage of producing a longer work. I’m currently working on the second installment of my current trilogy. The book has already been completed in rough draft and subsequently revised through several iterations. I’ve discovered very precisely what the story really is about, and while there’s still some structural work to finalize, the fundamentals of the plot, the subplot, the character arcs and all the other technical things are pretty much fixed and functional. But I am now at what I call “The Panic Stage.”

The Panic Stage

The Panic Stage occurs when I realize that all the free-styling, experimental, playful work of generating the story is over. A deadline is looming. I now have to face the music and pull all this together; choosing the right words and getting them in the right places; attending to all the details of tone, voice, rhythm, balance, pacing, foreshadowing, symbolism, sonic character and so on. In other words, moving deeply into the text. I love this side of it, but it terrifies me, too. This time round, in the course of this iteration, I really have to start getting things right. It’s almost my last chance. The stakes are high. It’s a race against time. It’s the moment of truth. Oh, yes, and I have to excise all the unwarranted clichés, too!

The Need for Peace and Quiet When Writing

My home is a busy place. There’s a lot of coming and going, with two teenage children, a menagerie of pets, the telephone ringing, delivery people turning up unannounced, visitors, guests and neighbors all calling by. No one understands I’m at work. I am, after all, at home. The room I write in has a window in front of my desk facing out onto the village. Folk passing by can see me. And what do they see? They see a chap messing about with his computer. They see a chap browsing through books. They see a chap staring into empty space. As the fantasy author, Joseph Lallo, so precisely put it, “It’s hard for people to take your work seriously when from the outside it looks just like leisure.”

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Finding Time to Write Without Interruption

Now, I manage to carve out quite a lot of uninterrupted writing time even at home because by habit I’m a very early riser. It’s not unusual for me to bounce out of bed at 4:30 in the morning. I frequently begin my first writing session no later than 6 am. Most sane people are still in the land of nod at such an early hour. The village I live in when I’m in England, which is a sleepy old place in any case, really only begins to stir with life toward 9 o’clock. By that time, I’ve achieved quite a lot. Even so, I have a multitude of other responsibilities, and if I’m honest I must say distractions, that steal time from my writing any and every day I’m at home.

I make no complaint. It’s chaotic, but I like it. However, when the chips are down, when I reach The Panic Stage, it’s time to abandon my household, my children, and their pets, to look after themselves (they’re plenty old enough to do that now) and disappear for a few days to the anonymity of a hotel room.

Choosing the Right Hotel

I have certain rules about writing in a hotel room. I choose cheap hotels. The sort used by travelling salesmen. I never stay in a charming, historic building, for example, or anywhere with a decent bar or restaurant. A motel is ideal. The room must be plain, basic and perfunctory. My only requirements are a bed, an en-suite bathroom, a desk, and a chair. I’ll have breakfast delivered to the room in the morning. I probably won’t eat well. I typically just bring along a store of snacks. Oh, and a little coffee-maker with decent, fair traded, 100% Arabica coffee.

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The advantage of the hotel room is its neutrality. There’s nothing in it. There’s nothing with any personal resonance or attraction. There are no distractions. For this reason the location is also important. It has to be nowhere of any interest whatsoever. Slightly rundown places in decaying British seaside resorts are good; by the side of a motorway with no town nearby works well; or in a dull suburban residential ghetto. If I’m tempted to look out the window, there’s nothing there for me, either.

There’s only one thing I can do in a hotel room, apart from sleep, and that’s write.

Concentration and Focus When Writing in a Hotel Room

For me, it really works. It isn’t necessarily easy. By nature I’m a gregarious sort. I enjoy company and the buzz of conversation. I’m an ardent observer of human behavior and interaction. I’m an even more ardent participant in such activity. For all its many faults, I love humanity. But at times like these I need isolation. It forces me to sit with myself. It’s quite intense. But as I said, it works. Everything here points me back to the keyboard or the notebook. There really is nothing to do but write.

That is a very good thing. Especially as between now and 6 o’clock tomorrow afternoon I have another 20,000 words to get down. That’s tiring but not too challenging in the usual run of things. But now I’m in The Panic Stage, remember? These words can no longer be “placeholders.” These words have to be pretty damn close to being the words which will finally be printed on the page and published for you and others to read.

Carlyle's_Writing-desk_and_Chair

Famous Writers Who Wrote in Hotel Rooms

I was interested to discover I’m not alone in this habit of writing in a hotel room. Ten minutes research, possibly less, turned up quite a list of famous authors who have done the same. Among them Maya Angelou, Thomas Wolfe, Jack Kerouac, Arthur Miller,  William Burroughs, Leonard Cohen, Earnest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Agatha Christie, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ian Fleming, Fritz Leiber, J. K. Rowling, and Gertrude Stein. No doubt there are many others.

So, even in the isolation of this neutral hotel room, I am still in good company.

Well, that’s my break over. Time to get back to it. This is quite a short post by my usual standards, coming in at just a little over 1000 words, but I hope it may have been of interest to you. If you’re a writer and you share this tendency to write in a hotel room, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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8 Comments

  1. Nice post. So interesting to see all the different ways writers work. Lately I’ve been writing in a hotel room out of necessity as I’ve travelled to Florida with my partner who is working here. Admittedly, I get a lot done but after 4 weeks of it I have to intersperse it with trips out. I find that taking my laptop to a coffee shop helps me get a lot more done surprisingly. Even when I’m in the hotel room I tend to wander around too much, eat too much, make too many teas!

    May 6, 2016
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Danielle,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate that. Yes, four weeks confined to a hotel room would probably drive me nuts. I usually do just a few days, maybe a long weekend. Coffee shops are good, I agree. In fact, places with a lot of low-level background noise like that can be great. I might be making this up, but I think I remember reading somewhere about an experiment some psychologists did with different frequencies and types of sound and the effects on concentration, and it corroborated the idea that background “hubbub” is just right for mental focus. Apparently, it’s a similar frequency to say, Tibetan Buddhist droning chants, which they use to aid meditation.

      And you’re absolutely right that even in the relative neutrality of a hotel room, discipline is still required! And yes, I have had to ask them for extra tea several times already – despite having brought my own coffee, too!

      Hey, enjoy Florida. That seems like a pretty exotic writing location to me. Call by here any time. You’ll be welcome. 🙂

      May 6, 2016
      |Reply
  2. Hi Austin,

    Thanks for the follow. I was reading through this post because the title caught my eye as well as the art. Nice touch, breaks up the text. 😀

    Enjoyable post; your writing is witty, crisp, informative and elegant – a hard combination. I especially enjoyed the paragraph on you ditching your kids and pets and going into self-imposed Monk mode. (HAHA!) Poor you, but if you know it helps in your writing, then it’s worth it.

    Related to your comments on the early drafts (“all the free-styling, experimental, playful work of generating the story is over”), I have to agree with you, I AM finding it fun writing my first draft now that I’m implementing your 20-minute-method. I’d stopped writing for 4/5 months because I thought writing was making me unhappy, stressed out, it was becoming like a chore and other reasons. Reflecting back on it, I needed time away and distance. Because of my frustration, I would have probably stopped altogether and given up, but your post gave me some hope and optimism with my writing, which I lacked before. For the last few days, I’ve written more words in short-time span than I would have thought possible. I even managed to write 600 odd words in a 20 minute time frame, lol. I don’t feel as restricted. It feels more freeing now that I can let my creativity loose, so MASSIVE THANK YOU!! 🙂

    Of course, it’s still early days but I’ve made a good start on my novel and my writing goals are manageable. I guess the true test will be if/when I finish this beast of mine. 😀 I’m having fun like a kid in a candy store, and more importantly, I’m HAPPY writing “shit” because it exactly doesn’t appear as bad to me later – I can see where I’m heading. So many options are available now.

    All the best,

    Farrah

    September 11, 2016
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Farrah,

      Well, there’s good news indeed! You know, I don’t mind the monkish seclusion as much as I may sometimes suggest. I’ve never really been an either/or person. Give me a party or give me eremetic solitude, I can find value and happiness both ways.

      I’ve seen that you’ve been publishing your word counts to your blog. It’s a good idea if you need that sense of accountability. It’s no less a good idea simply to share your happiness in your achievements. I wouldn’t worry about it being “early days” – just do today’s work today and forget about everything else until it comes around. Have you ever read “Momo” by Michael Ende? There’s a character who’s a road sweeper – sweeps by hand with a broom – and has to clean miles and miles of road each day. Momo asks him how he doesn’t go crazy and he says he just looks at the next yard ahead and that always seems easy to sweep, just one yard.

      Palaces are built one brick at a time and books one word at a time. No matter how smart or fast, you can only ever write one word at a time. And that’s all you have to do.

      What are you writing, anyway, in broad strokes? If you don’t mind sharing, that is…

      September 12, 2016
      |Reply
      • Hi Austin,

        Yeah, I’m treating my blog like a logbook/diary, so I can track my progress. I thought it may be a good idea since my handwriting is seriously messy. It’s also a good way to reflect on what I’ve written, so it helps to some extent.

        No, I haven’t read Momo. But I’ll check it out, thanks. I’m always looking to add to my growing list of books. I think that’s a good analogy – like with everyone, I like instant gratification ahaha – but the only thing I can do is increase my productivity. When I started writing my first novel years ago, I was on a roll, the enthusiasm was off the scales and as I recall I managed to write about 35k in that first month (then again, I had an outline), but this month has been a return of sorts to that early happy period. I’ve written more words in the last two weeks, so I’m pleased. I’m trying a different approach – no planning. It gets easier once you’re actually writing, but I have to take breaks.

        I’m writing a contemporary novel – it’s going to have multiple povs. I’m enjoying writing from the male pov; it’s pretty much similar to the female pov, barring a few details. How about you? Have you written from the female pov? 🙂

        Great job on the blog posts – I look forward to reading the others. They’re very engaging; you’re a wonderful non-fiction writer. Many people can’t write non-fiction; their style comes off as stilted, repetitive or dry. I want to gouge my eyes out whenever I read academic journals! 😀

        September 17, 2016
        |Reply
        • Austin Hackney
          Austin Hackney

          Hi Farrah,

          Thanks again for your kind and generous comments regarding this blog – and once again I’m delighted it’s proving useful to you in your own writing process. You are certainly not alone in having had a stop-start experience with writing your first novel. I think you’ll find everyone at some point has been there. The trick to professional writing is to “keep calm and carry on” even when your enthusiasm is in your boots and you really don’t feel like it at all. That’s why I prefer to compare myself to a bricklayer rather than an artist. It seems acceptable for an artist to flop down on the chaise longue with the back of one hand lightly touching her forehead and claim she can’t work that day as she’s got “writer’s block” or some other nonsense. More difficult for a bricklayer to say she can’t just keep putting one brick down after another just because she doesn’t really feel like it that day. So a lot of it has to do with attitude. You just have to keep putting those word-bricks down one after the other, come what may.

          I much prefer deep and detailed planning for a novel, or indeed any work. But we’re all different and it’s worth experimenting with different approaches. Certainly, careful planning prior to starting writing is one of the keys to fast writing and productivity for me.

          Lol – you clearly haven’t read much of my fiction or my books! Yes, I have written female protagonists a lot, and usually from a very tight POV. 😉

          September 18, 2016
          |Reply
      • Word-bricks! I like that. 🙂 You wrote a steampunk trilogy with a female lead – great stuff (I like the monkey on the cover)!

        I noticed you retweeted an article on H.G. Wells. I read The Time Machine and I was struck with how beautiful and evocative his prose style is. The guy excelled at sensory description.

        When I was kid, I don’t remember many big-name male authors writing about female leads except Philip Pullman, Lemony Snicket and… Philip Pullman. Most of the male Middle-Grade/YA authors wrote with male leads (e.g. Anthony Horowitz, Darren Shan and Charlie Higson etc.), but their stories were exciting, so I didn’t care – I actually preferred reading male authors even though their books were clearly marketed towards a boy audience and not to me lol; interestingly, the female authors wrote from different povs but again there was dichotomy between male author = boy lead and female author = girl lead. Come to think of it, the YA market was pretty bare in the early noughties… 😀 I’d say it only exploded in popularity after Twilight’s success.

        Tight pov? Third person or first person? I dislike first person narrative, mostly because it’s limited in scope, but some authors are very skilled at pulling it off. I mostly write in third person limited.

        Anyway, gotta get back to the writing… *sobs* :O ;D

        September 20, 2016
        |Reply
        • Austin Hackney
          Austin Hackney

          Hi Farrah,

          Thanks for your interesting comment. Yes, I think there has certainly been an explosion in YA and you may well be right about the gender dichotomy. Personally, I think that – as in life – roles are largely interchangeable (aside from certain biological dictates, although we are rapidly working towards obviating even those) and the choice of whether or not your protagonist is gendered one way or another is entirely arbitrary. For my own part, I feel more affinity with female gender culturation than male and so tend to write in that point of view. I also think there’s a powerful need for greater equality and inclusiveness in literature, especially for younger people, so I’m happy to make some contribution to that side of things.

          In the end, however, while messages, both subtle and overt, may not be anathema to me, I hope I always put the story first. If the story isn’t commanding, no one will read it anyway. No point being a voice crying in the wilderness!

          I’ve written in first person – and certain genres do demand it – but I prefer third person; although I often allow my protagonists to express an interior monologue so we do get a bit of insight into her head.

          I’m a great fan of H.G. Wells.

          It’s fun watching your word count grow. 😉

          September 20, 2016
          |Reply

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