I know this may sound crazy, but I owe a big part of my success as a suspense author to finally figuring out the best place for me to write. In a pinch I can crank out pages almost anywhere (even, if desperate, in a dentist’s office), but I’m the most productive–and I think the most creative–in small, dark, very quiet spaces.
Certainly there were other factors that helped me succeed in writing fifteen novels, such as being a voracious reader myself; learning as much as I could about the genre, religiously writing every day; and working with terrific editors. But none of those factors would have mattered if I hadn’t found the right workspace. Because until I did, I was unable to produce any pages.
A bit of back story: I went into magazines after college, and I ended up running several U.S. publications, including Cosmopolitan for fourteen years, but my dream was always to be an author, too. Living in Manhattan, I made room in whatever apartment I rented for my cheap roll-top desk, but despite my vow to write every weekend, I never made time to do it. My years-long procrastination seemed to be a sign I wasn’t meant to be a fiction author, and I finally threw in the towel.
Two decades into my magazine career, I experienced a renewed longing to pen a novel, particularly one of suspense. I had a crazy day job, but I felt determined that this time I would make it happen.
I was married with kids by now and there was no room for a desk in our living room, so I ended up reconfiguring a large closet in my bedroom as a home office and bought a small, simple desk to set up in there.
And, funnily enough, in that dim, cramped space, the words flowed. On weekends I’d wake early and write before my kids were up, and within two years I’d finished my first mystery and had a publisher. The Freudian explanation might be that I thrive in a womb-like setting, but I think it’s really because I do best when it’s extremely quiet and, equally important, when there’s a minimal amount of visual noise. It was such an important discovery for me.
As time passed, my husband and I were able to afford bigger living spaces, but I’ve always made sure my work area was small and dark.
Eight years ago I decided to leave magazines and write full time. My husband and I currently divide each week between an apartment in New York and an old farmhouse in Pennsylvania, and my country office is in an 1800’s barn we renovated. Though the barn’s big, I designed my office to be small, and I love how the barn wood that lines the walls and ceiling creates the dark feeling I love so much. I’m in heaven here.
Not every author is going to thrive in the kind of space that works for me, but if you yearn to write, I think it’s key to figure out the formula that’s best for you.
The only downside of the old barn? Sometimes I hear odd sounds that I sense might be the ghosts of horses, cows and pigs that once resided here. But so far nothing’s taken a nibble out of me.