Each time I’ve moved in the last five years, my writing desk has always gone next to a window. In four different houses, in four different boroughs of London, I’ve looked out over the street for inspiration, a quiet moment, or sometimes just to be nosey.
I did try having it in another room in the last flat I lived in. Technically it was near a window, although it looked onto a wall. It was horrible. I felt closed in, shut off, unable to write anything. Thirty minutes was about as long as I lasted before moving it. For some reason, having that open space to one side of me helps to keep the words flowing.
The first was in South London, a quiet residential street where I mostly observed the passing movements of neighbours. In fact, my most recent flash fiction post Fragment #5 Paralysed in Place, was written there. I hadn’t long started my Masters in Creative Writing, and was adjusting to the different pace of life, where I would have whole days of writing, followed by evenings of tutoring, or odd days of supply or cover work in schools. It was also a pleasure to discover that my writing window granted me a heavy dose of voyeurism.
My most interesting discovery is that people very rarely look up. Even though I’m only on a first floor window, I’ve very often watched whole scenarios play out, sometimes even leaning close to the glass to get a good look, and no-one has ever seen me. It’s a feeling that’s enjoyable, yet alienating.
Having the privilege to freely stare at other people without being noticed means they don’t alter their behaviour because they know they’re being watched. Just the other week, a man was manoeuvring what I can only assume was the hook to link the car up to the flux capacitor in and out of his house. He measured it against the car, went back in, came back out again with another bit attached, the whole thing taking a good twenty minutes, before he went off and presumably had a word with his past self about how to win big on the Lottery.
In terms of long-term amusement, my favourite was probably where I am now, another residential street, this time in North London. Early in the morning, a man put bins out to keep his parking space. Watching the different reactions of approaching cars was great. Some muttering, or actually shouting obscenities (even though he wasn’t there) but still not moving them, others who tried to squeeze in and park next to them, or the final group, that got out and moved them, either accompanied by furtive glances or bold defiance. All of human experience, in a single stretch of street.
But it does make me feel separate. Sitting still and tapping away, while people leave for work, meet friends, get deliveries, have plumbers round, all while I sit and look over them. Which might be why I like it so much for writing. Just that little bit of distance, of separation, allows me to step back a little and observe, to take on the role of audience. Without it, I’m not sure I could write what I do. My very own real-life TV screen, showing me a tiny portion of humanity, and allowing me to elaborate on what I see, to weave it into stories and worlds.
So how about you? Where do you write, and how does it help you create stuff? Let me know in the comments.