WORKPLACE / FEB. 14, 2015
version 5, draft 5

The Best – and Worst – Alternative Places for Home-Based Writers to Work

Any freelance writer who spends much of their time working from home will be familiar with the term ’cabin fever’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term thus:

“Lassitude, restlessness, irritability, or aggressiveness resulting from being confined for too long with few or no companions.”

In freelance writing terms, it could just as easily be described as:

“The propensity to go nuts when you spend all day, every day looking at the same four walls by yourself.”

The truth is, cabin fever is part and parcel of life when you’re a freelance writer. It’s not there all the time but when it does decide to pay a visit, it can literally make you feel like the walls of your abode are steadily closing in on you like a slowed-down Indiana Jones film. 

So what can you do to combat this when writing is your bread and butter? Well the answer is simple: you need to pack up your netbook, lock the door behind you and decamp somewhere else for a while.

But where to go..? 

Below are a couple of really good options for decamping writers to consider, as well as a couple more which – while they might seem okay from the outset – can actually end up doing more harm than good. 

The Good...

When it comes to finding a nearby place to work that is peaceful, inexpensive and free of distractions, nothing hits the spot quite like your local library. The ever-so-slightly academic surroundings of a library are ideal for writers as they encourage concentration and reinforce the idea of relishing a bit of bookish research. Furthermore, libraries are pretty effective at putting the kybosh on you whiling away your time on YouTube or mucking around with your smartphone as the “Ssshhh!” form of citizen policing keeps noisy activities well and truly in check. Perfect peace and next to no distractions (unless there is an attractive librarian pushing that little wheeled bookcase around), the library is easily the best place for wall-climbing writers to decamp for a while.

Coming in a close second is the hotel. Now your first response might well be: “A hotel? Do you think I’m made of money? I am a freelance writer y’know?” Okay, so bear with me a minute. When I say ’decamp to a hotel’, I’m not for one minute suggesting you nip down to the capital and spend a weekend generating flowery prose on a Georgian bureau in a suite at the Ritz. What I am suggesting is killing two birds with one stone: enjoying an extended period away from your domestic cell AND doing some work while you’re at it. A two or three night hotel stay needn’t be expensive in this day and age as websites like TravelZoo and MoneySavingExpert always seem to have great deals available (you can’t argue with a £9 Travelodge room). Yes it will eat into your profits a wee bit but writing in a hotel room feels like far more of a treat than working in a library, and spending a couple of evenings away from the same four walls will do you the power of good, psychologically speaking. Definitely worth considering if your circumstances allow. 

The Bad...

It is perhaps a reflection on our time that coffee shops and freelancers are now regarded as bedfellows in much the same way as politicians and corruption are. Yet, while the average gratis Wi-Fi coffee shop is likely to be a great retreat (or even a de-facto coffice) for some web-based freelancers, it is unlikely to find favour with most writers; the reason being that coffee shops are supremely distracting places. You can’t help but eavesdrop on the conversations of those seated near you and you can’t help but observe the barista who may or may not be making subliminal notes about how often you’re visiting the till. You can’t help but let the music on the in-house PA system dance around your brain and you can’t help but get irritated when yet another pram collides with your chair. In a nutshell, you can’t help but get distracted pretty much all the time and, when it comes to writing, that’s absolutely no use whatsoever. Another bad choice which may look pretty appealing from the outset is decamping to a friend or family member’s house. They will no doubt tell you that they’ll respect your privacy because they understand how you need peace and quiet to work. Let me tell you now, they don’t understand. The first hour or so will be fine: you’ll get hooked up, make yourself comfortable and start cracking on with your latest project feeling relatively at ease. But then, eventually and inevitably, it will come: a head round the door, “Just checking to see if you’re okay/need anything/know where everything is.” The thing is, you being there is a novelty, perhaps even a treat to them (it will definitely be seen that way by parents, I assure you) so even with the best will in the world your friend/family member will be quite unable to resist the urge to come and see what you’re up to at regular intervals. The only way this option is likely to work is if your friend/family member is a freelancer themselves or they trust you enough to let you use their place in their absence. 

The Ugly...Truth

So what do you think, did the options highlighted above hit the mark? Do you hit the library when you need a change of scene? Would you shell out for a hotel room just to get your writing back on track? We’re keen to find out what you think on this matter so please feel free to share your truths with us by leaving a message in the box below.

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