Changing Your Writing Space - Elizabeth Kay

My Previous office

Some people can write to music; I can’t. I have to have silence, which is a bit of a joke as I have tinnitus, but I’ve learned to push that into the background.

I live in a large double-fronted semi, and my office used to be downstairs on the side that abutted next door. They have three children, who have now reached screaming age. The party wall is extremely thin, and the fireplaces use the same chimney which seems to act as a sound box. They’re very nice people, but kids will be kids, especially when they have friends round. Consequently, we’ve decided to have the chimney bricked in and the wall soundproofed, but the guy who is going to do it has broken his hand so the job is delayed for a couple of months. I am fortunate enough to have a studio as well, which is also downstairs and on the other side of the house and a lot smaller, so I decided to up sticks and relocate. It’s been a revelation.

            Yesterday I wrote more in one day than I have in the last month. I had no idea that extraneous sound affected me quite that much, I thought I could write anywhere. The view from the window is back gardens rather than the street, so it’s really tranquil and I no longer have the traffic piling up outside during the rush hour. I can concentrate. It’s quite a high window so I have to stand up to watch the birds, but that’s good because otherwise I’d be twitching all day.

   The main problem was getting an internet connection. I look things up all the time – gone are the days when I travelled up to the Natural History Museum to use their library. Information is available at the touch of a button, and free most of the time. It’s a different world from when I was young, and knowledge was something that was bought.

My husband, an IT consultant, works at home most of the time, and has several computers in his office upstairs. He had the cable connection, and I’d used the wireless link. It wouldn’t work consistently in my new office – in fact, most of the time it wouldn’t work at all due to the number of  intervening walls. The answer has been something called a powerline adaptor, which plugs into an electric socket. When we bought this house we more or less gutted it, and we have a minimum of four sockets in every room – sometimes more. Even so, I still need a trailing socket. Because the room is so small it’s cheaper to run an electric heater from time to time instead of turning on the whole central heating. Then there’s the printers, the phone, a couple of table lights… and so on. I’ve only had this computer for 18 months, but I’ve still got through two keyboards. The ones they supply have stick-on keys, which rub off pretty quickly, and my old keyboard from way back which has proper moulded keys has the wrong connection. So I decided splash out on a new keyboard. The only one with moulded keys I could find (I wanted to try out the action, which precluded buying one online) was a gaming keyboard. The letters are actually see-through, and backlit from behind. In RED! This is fabulous, because I can type in the evening without turning on the main light. It’s like summoning your prose from the depths of hell… I love it.

I'm going to turn my old office into my new studio... whenever the soundproofing work gets done. Which just seems to get put back further and further. But I don't care any more!!!


Jan Needle said…
ah silence! in one of the rooms where i write, the perennal pigeon problem is rearing its ugly head again. bloody spring! and apart from looking far too seedy to eat, these city dwellers seem quite capable of shooting back if i declare war. time to give up work for the summer and go sailing? mm. i wish...
Chris Longmuir said…
My study is a box room that leads off my bedroom. It looks out onto the back garden but I keep the vertical blinds closed all the time. So it's quiet with no distractions. However, my workspace is a lot more cluttered than yours, Elizabeth. and I do envy your backlit keyboard. I'd love one with red illuminated keys!
Bill Kirton said…
I made the same sort of change a few years back - from upstairs bedroom looking onto a busy road (the one that eventually gets you to Balmoral), to basement bedroom looking onto the garden. Like you, I need silence to write but, somehow, the traffic didn't bother me. I do, though, appreciate the total silence I now enjoy. Just one thing - when I was looking out onto passing cars and pedestrians, I often used them to fill narrative gaps or transitions. My policeman would get up, go to his window and see whatever I was seeing outside. Now all he'd see would be the same grass, plants and carvings every time.
And, like Chris, I want that keyboard.
Lydia Bennet said…
Interesting post, we all have our needs as writers but don't always know what they are! My study is a riot of skulls, posters and pictures, and Stuff generally. i've been more affected as a writer by getting this iMac which I've learned to use but don't like much especially for Word use, and the hesitation about getting a new pc since they all have Windows 8.1 though apparently in september we get windows 10 which is reportedly much better! I just can't shake off my PC affinity - it's PC gone mad I tells yer!
I love the look of that keyboard! I work upstairs, looking out onto the garden which is a bit distracting but nice. I can also ignore the doorbell up here and pretend I don't hear it. Sometimes I really don't hear it. I think work spaces matter although I sometimes think I work just as well downstairs, on the laptop, in the evening, with the TV on which I'm capable of ignoring completely. I remember that my dad could do this too - and my son seems to have inherited it from me. My need for silence is intermittent.
Susan Price said…
Agree Catherine - TV has to be really gripping to stop me picking up my laptop - and then, usually, I become oblivious to the TV.

But I seem to work best anywhere that isn't at home - pubs, cafes, poolsides, B&Bs - and, yesterday, on my partner's sofa while waiting for my car to be MOT'd. Perhaps I should become nomadic.
I sympathise. Noise really distracts me, and for some reason I don't write very well on the ground floor - maybe it's that feeling of being interrupted whenever something goes past the window? Buying a bungalow on a typical residential street was probably a mistake...

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