You Can Write Anywhere - Just Come Prepared

by Randy Murray on March 15, 2010

It was just after 1 PM on Friday and I hadn’t had any coffee yet. Or breakfast. If you know me, this is a very unusual situation. And the caffeine withdrawal headache was setting in. But the Yelp application on my iPhone told me my destination was straight ahead.  I’d struck out with the sandwich shop at Columbia University. I hoped this place would be better.

It was. The place was open, clean and crowded, but there were still a few tables open. I purchased a sandwich, a bottle of water, and the largest cup of coffee they had and took the most remote table with my back to the wall. I read while I ate, Adam Gopnik’s delightful Paris To the Moon, and after a while the headache backed off.

By then the lunch crowd began clearing and it looked as if there were plenty of tables available for newcomers, so I cleared my tray and set up my trusty Macbook Pro. The restaurant provided free WIFI, which was good, but they’d put the power receptacles on the ceiling, out of reach. That was petty and unnecessary.  I could work as long as my aging battery would last, probably about an hour.

It was enough. I could pound out the three blog posts before the warning message would force me to shut it down. But I could only do that because I was prepared.

I love writing in my office, but a good writer should be able to write virtually anywhere. Working in a strange place with limitations on your time and tools, as well as distractions, takes planning.

Before I’d left on the trip a few days before, I’d mapped out the week of blog posts (last week’s posts). I’d finished two, but a last-minute problem with my home network kept me from finishing them all and sending them over for editorial review before I left. That was frustrating, but it also allowed me additional time to ponder the remaining topics. When Friday rolled around and I had finished lunch and coffee, I was ready to write. And even in the noisy deli I could write nearly as fast as I could type. To someone watching it might seem as though I was transcribing, which in a sense I was – transcribing from that version in my mind onto the page.

While writing, it’s a good idea to also keep another document open – a catchall. You can use it to jot down stray ideas, or that sentence or paragraph that doesn’t fit your current piece, but might be useful for something in the future.

And if you simply can’t write with the distracting noise, be sure and bring your headphones and turn up some music. Personally, I don’t like to write to music, but strangers’ voices and conversations don’t bother me. In fact, you learn the most interesting things that way. It’s very useful if you also happen to be a playwright or novelist.  See this coming Friday’s writing assignment for an example.

I also recommend to others, but don’t always follow this advice myself, to use a thumb-drive as a backup. Laptops are terrific, but they have two really big disadvantages. First, you’re going to drop it at some point. It’s a given. And second, someone could walk off with it. As bad as it is to lose your computer, it’s worse to lose your work.

I use Google as an online backup. Simply email a copy of your work to your own Gmail address. It’s fast and efficient. And free.

I’m betting you will find you can write virtually anywhere, too. It’s easier if you know what you’re going to write and you have the right tools. Just give yourself permission to sit down, focus, and create.

By the way, the Strokos Gourmet Deli in New York on Amsterdam Avenue near Morningside Park is a great place to write. Very good food, fair prices, and free WIFI. I recommend it. Try the Havana sandwich.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mari March 15, 2010 at 2:45 pm


I find myself nodding in agreement with each of your posts and hope others recognize your valuable tips and tricks.

P.S. Loved Paris to the Moon, too!


2 Randy Murray March 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Thanks, Mari!


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