Imagine a secluded spot. You have the hammock all to yourself and soft ocean breezes. You have someone to cook for you, someone to make the bed, and someone to keep your pencils sharpened. You have a super speedy Internet connection, all the Post-Its you could ever want, and the sun doesn’t set until 9:45 p.m. Is this not the idyllic place to write the great American novel?
Possibly. But I can guess I’m not ready to embark on my route to greatness just yet, because I do my best work on a New York City bus. I also have been known to work on the subway, in my living room while we watch the Kardashians take Miami, and during my lunch hour in my office.
To be fair, I thrive on distractions. When I was in college, I used to go to the local fried chicken place to do my homework and write my papers. I could order up a soda and some fries and tune out the noises and movement around me. I did some of my best work even though my drafts did have some greasy edges from the fries. My colleagues would be snoring, head down at the library and I’d be writing away to the beat of the bad, blaring Muzak overhead and the conversations at the table next to me, barely overheard. There’s an up tempo to fast food that is wonderful when you are trying to work on a deadline.
Food and noise seem to be the running theme here because I remember working on articles for a local underground parenting newspaper while feeding my kids at McDonald’s or Caesar’s Pizza. I’d take them to the playground and I’d sit on the sidelines next to the big sandbox in Central Park, making notes or editing. And because I didn’t have a great computer setup at the time, I would work at a storefront computer center where I bartered free computer time in exchange for free advertising in my paper. I would write and people to my left and right would be filing their taxes or designing wedding announcements.
I’m not sure why it is that I don’t get much done with quiet or solitude. It could just be that, living with four children, the very notion of quiet and solitude is so foreign to me that the idea of moving my writing there is not a viable option. Of course I can call up the image of seclusion, no interruptions, and many distraction-free days, but I think it’s really the interruptions that sharpen my work. I write a couple of lines of something, somebody gets on the bus and argues with the driver about how this could possibly be a limited bus when they expected a local and when I go back to what I’ve just written, I readjust, I edit, or I start fresh, or I incorporate something of their exchange in the dialogue. Or the doors close after somebody gets on the subway car I’m in and I look up to see a bearded guy with a khaki messenger bag. Oh, and he’s also wearing a floor length pink, fluffy ball gown and heels. How would quiet and solitude compare with the wonderful chaos of New Yorkers getting from place to place? He took the train so he wouldn’t be late for the ball. It’s as simple as that.
So, much as I like the idea of a long afternoon sipping tea in front of a fire or gazing out into the snow-capped hills through clean, white curtains, I will have to wait. I know that not only do I need the craziness of the city for inspiration, I need the same craziness to be able to focus so I can get to the heart of my little message. I’m not ready for the huge advance, the constant CNN interview requests, the movie franchise deal, or the million plus Twitter followers. What I am ready for is one little story at a time. I write about the city, in the city. I look at Manhattan as my private island. And, as Carrie Bradshaw once said, “I’m not done with New York.”