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.”
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.
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.
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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