There’s a bit of writing advice that I receive a lot: treat writing like your full-time job, sit down at the same time and place everyday, train your brain to be creative. I’ve heard it again and again, because it works.
For others, I’m assuming.
I’ve never been able to hold down a routine. Consistency makes my skin crawl, so I’ve had to find another way to inspire creativity and meet deadlines. By changing where you write, you change the way you write: it becomes varied, rooted in distinct experiences, and tonally original. And when was the last time you complained about writing too dynamically?
Being in a different place can help our stories feel easier, inspire us to notice more, and make returning to our writing place a whole new experience. It can be as small as changing the direction of your desk, or as big as a weekend away without a whisper of internet connection. Or, you can uproot your entire life and move across an ocean.
At the end of 2020, I moved to Scotland for a writing Master’s. I’d lived in Montreal for a few years, the longest I’d settled down anywhere for a decade, and was starting to get the itch. I was aware moving in the middle of a pandemic wouldn’t be easy, but I also knew it was the challenge I needed. Not only did I instantly become an outsider, but all the habits I’d labeled as normal in myself became something to scrutinize, something of interest.
Without meaning to, we put our surroundings into everything we write. Maybe the sun is shining, you’ve just had an argument, or you’ve been given an eclectic mug that you know the protagonist of your story would also have; we are sponges that ooze plot. Now, I’m not trying to convince anyone to move halfway across the world like I did, but I am trying to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone.
Perhaps it is sitting outside, acting like a tourist in your own city, or treating yourself to a cafe that you’d normally walk past. It can be directly useful, such as visiting the same city as your character, or discovering a hobby by chance that you never thought they’d be into.
As soon as I landed in the UK, I knew my brain was aware in a whole new way, and I have the journal entries to prove it. From the roads never being wide enough for two cars, to the public walking paths taking you through fields of sheep who think you have food and charge towards you with impressive speed. I was learning again how I react under pressure; meeting new types of people with traits that could easily be given to characters; feeling the familiar stress of not immediately belonging.
Putting ourselves in different environments makes us think differently about our stories, and our characters. As much as you know them on paper, knowing what they’d notice in an all-night pharmacy at 1 a.m., or who else would be there, is another matter entirely. You’re reconnecting with your world, and observing the behaviours of strangers as they unknowingly walk through your homework. Those real character actions aren’t something you can buy with money, only with your time.
It can take a lot of energy, to suddenly be aware of what’s around you again, or to take on new places, but alongside a healthy relationship with discomfort comes a balanced connection with rejection. As writers with a list of submission dates, we need to practice resilience against the vulnerability and fear of the job.
The best part of switching up your space, however, is coming back home. Whenever I return to Canada, to my family farm, to my writing desk, I see everything all over again. Not as if for the first time, but I notice different things, items I’ve forgotten to look for. It’s that nostalgia of returning somewhere that makes you comfortable. I guarantee you’d describe your living room in a whole new way if you went a few days without seeing its walls, its stained carpet, how the afternoon sunshine has faded the couch.
Changing your writing space may not always go well, but this is part of the magic: we’re rarely lost for words when complaining. Every experience feeds into your writing and characters in unexpected ways.
Remember that writing isn’t always putting words on paper. Even if you don’t get a lot of work done, changing the scenery can be an excuse for a vacation, a walk, or a redecoration. It’s how we turn ourselves into our own best editors, looking at things in a whole new way, as a slightly different person. And if you need to move to the UK to do that, I’ll be here to support you.
Kate Hammer is a writer, producer, and performer born in Canada, and living in Scotland. An award-winning playwright, director, and published writer, Kate constantly strives to create community representation in order to tell the stories that need to be heard. They now work in television development and are publishing a non-fiction book later this year called, Bruce Willis is My Dad. They are a queer, neurodivergent creator who never forgets their goat farming heritage. katethehammer.com
Photos: Monstera via Pexels; Jeremy Cabrera (headshot)