Writing home and away


I’m working away from my desk, as my out of office assistant puts it. But I’m still very much working.

I’m writing out of place. I don’t have my usual working set up. And not just for a couple of days but actually for quite a lengthy period of time.

I’m writing on a netbook and not my big computer with the giant screen. So I’ve done all of the obvious things you do when you’re planning to work somewhere else. I have everything stored on cloud and backed up on a USB. I have the most likely books I need to use, in digital versions of course. I can access the library journal collection via Browzine. My marking is sitting on Moodle and I don’t even have to download the assignments.

So this all ought to be fine right? Well no. I’m grumpily realising that there are some compromises that I actually don’t like making.

For a start.  My netbook mirrors my desktop screen. Good eh? Well no.  I have a very particular way of naming and positioning folders on my screen so that all of my current work is bang in the centre – I can’t help but see the do-it-now folders when I first turn on the machine. These are the reminder list you have without having to make the reminder list. All the regular tasks are  placed on either side. The middle says THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE DOING NOW. The three columns with space in between looks OK on the big screen and this arrangement works for me.

Organising your screen display can be useful.  Knowing where things are really helps your work mood.  It’s like having your kitchen benches organised so that everything is in its place and you don’t have to waste time trying to find the kitchen towel.

So just imagine taking a tidy big screen – and then shrinking it. Shriek. Gasp.

This is not tidy writ small. It’s actually really hard to find things as they are now in new places on the screen. What’s more, there’s too many folders and they overlap. It’s hard to read the file names.

This visual disorder puts me in a slightly agitated state whenever I sit down to write – that is, every morning. I now begin my day by hunting out where I am in the crowded file display in front of me. Yes, yes, I hear you say, just combine some. Of course I could just sort things further, but then I’ll have to do the same in reverse when I get back. But I might have to do this if I continue being jarred by the very look of my workspace.

And next. The screen itself is small. Working on a big screen means that you can get a lot in front of your eyes at once. Working on a tiny netbook means the reverse. As I am writing this, I now can’t even see where this post began. While this lack of overview doesn’t matter so much for blog posts, I find it is pretty irritating for more sustained writing where reading back over what you’ve written to check for flow is an important part of composing – well it is for me anyway.

So do I lash out and buy an additional screen? Well probably. Eventually. Maybe sooner if I keep getting bothered by this limited see-scope.

And just don’t start me on the space I’m working in. I’m on a table shared with other people, eating, reading, listening to music I don’t like, there’s even television on some occasions. I’m sitting on an ordinary chair. I’m absolutely used to a posh Aero chair which keep my back sorted, and a proper solitary office. I really don’t do this new arrangement well.

Of course it’s manageable. It’s just not what I usually do. I realise that, like a tennis player- yes that’s been on while I’ve been trying to write –  I have a set of routines and rituals associated with writing. I notice when they are missing. I can’t help but feel out of sorts  when my accustomed ways of writing, thinking and reading change. I’m very much a writing creature of habit.

I’m just not sure how people who write in coffee shops actually do it, but I guess this is its own kind of ritual where change rather than same-old-same-old is the norm.

As is often the case, a change of scene has been a bit of a disruption. I’m thinking about the embodied practices of writing. I’m remembering that how we write, where we write, the kit that we have and how we organise it, underpins how we feel about the writing that we do. And perhaps how we actually do it.

And I’m thinking that some of the writing advice about developing a daily writing practice focuses rather too much on time, rather than space, stuff and body.

But that’s enough of that. I clearly can write, albeit a little out of sorts. And there is of course one compensation. On good days I can work outside on the balcony. There is still a table and a crappy chair.

But there is The View. And bird song. And once a day, sunrise.