I’ve been writing for a long time. I won’t say exactly how long, but we were many years away from the pager blowing our minds when my first article came back from the editor with more red on it than Putin’s jammies. In all that time, I guess I’ve approached where I wrote the same way. And maybe that’s the problem. This never dawned on me until I watched Sonic Highways, Dave Grohl’s new HBO show documenting the Foo Fighters journey to record each song for their new record in a different legendary music city. Especially when he said, “We’ve been doing this for 20 years so I thought I’d keep things fresh by changing our environment."
That makes sense.
Not only does it make sense for millionaire rock stars who have a hell of a lot to live up to, but it also makes sense for anyone who’s been doing creative work for any length of time. It’s easy to get into a rut — or approach the work in an assembly line-like manner when there’s so much to do and your livelihood depends on it. To keep your stuff fresh and new, you have to keep yourself fresh and new. Your environment can’t drag you down or remind you that the other parts of your life are falling apart. You need to feel energized, inspired, and ready to produce.
Now, all this doesn’t mean you need to build a retreat out in the woods with incense burning and birds on the windowsill. Although, that sounds pretty sweet. It means staying one-step ahead of the devil that is “Resistance (link)." That means a multi-layered attack is necessary to be successful and keep moving forward. It bit me in the ass lately and my work has suffered. So, I decided to step back and have been pursuing every avenue to make sure I keep Resistance at bay. It started with my writing environment.
The funny thing is I’ve always been fascinated by people’s workspaces. I roll through them online in amazement and then come to the realization they’re probably like those bullshit homes that are staged. But maybe they're not. No one can work like that, can they? Doesn’t there need to be shit flying everywhere? Then I realize I write like I do everything else — the same way Animal from The Muppets plays the drums (link). More mad scientist, than genius researcher.
But again, it’s all about being disciplined. Which I find harder as I get older. I honestly thought it would be the other way around.
So, before you sit down to start churning through whatever work you have, take a look at your surroundings and ask yourself if this is the best place for you to do killer work. I looked at my office again this morning and not only is it a poor place to churn out my best stuff, but I also didn’t even want to spend time there. It’s half-decorated, bills on the desk (who wants to be reminded of what you owe when creating?), and there were papers in piles. Now, the piles were organized, but they were piles nonetheless. God I hate piles.
You should be working in a safe place where you can focus on what you’re doing and not have every aspect of your life creeping up and tapping you on the shoulder. Coffee shops work for me. I think it's because I have so many responsibilities that when I'm not at home, none of them are staring me in the face. And it's all about blocking out distractions. Now, it’s even better if you can afford to travel to a new city and rent a space that a famous writer created their best work like the Foos did. But it’s not necessary. Cool, but unnecessary.
Although HBO might give you your own show …