Beauty? No, thanks

As a side note to my post last week on the cafes I have killed, I wanted to add one more thing about writing locations. It struck me that in a country with so much beauty, I  have latched onto the ugliest locations in which to do my writing.

It seems that beauty doesn’t really work for me, at least while I’m writing. It’s wonderful to look at, wonderful to get inspiration from, but it seems I prefer to get that inspiration before I sit down to write. When I’m writing, all I want to look at is the computer screen.

I’ve tried sitting on the beach in the shade of a coconut tree with pen and paper in hand, but it’s just too bloody idyllic. I end up just looking out to sea, falling asleep, or getting up and going for a swim. Similarly with those wonderful beachfront cafes – they don’t work for me. They also tend to be busy and popular, negating one of my main criteria for writing locations.

I think I shun beauty because writing involves entering a different world. Although I’m living in Barbados, I don’t feel as if I know it well enough yet to write about it. So the novel I’m working on is set mostly in southern England, as are most of the short stories I work on in-between. I need to enter that world, and when I look out at a view like this, it’s difficult.

Caribbean Sea

Even if I were writing about Barbados, I think too much beauty would still be a distraction from the world my characters inhabit. So that’s why I seek out less spectacular locations. They help me enter a fictional world instead of being mesmerised by the one in front of my eyes.

They don’t have to be ugly – just not too beautiful. The one from my apartment works too.

It’s nice to look out over, and I love the brightness and the sun and the colours, but it’s not spectacular enough to distract me. (Sorry about the weird effect from the insect screen!)

The one from my London flat used to work too – very different, but also nice in its own way, without being beautiful.

I don’t have any photos of my old writing desk in New York, but I remember it used to face a blank wall. The point is that, when it comes to writing, too much beauty can be distracting. You need to think myself into the world of your characters, and that means temporarily vacating the world in front of your eyes. The perfect view can stop you from doing that.

Do you have a preferred location for writing or other creative work? Do you like to look out over beauty, or a blank wall, or something else?

15 thoughts on “Beauty? No, thanks

  1. You have a point there – trying to write at the beach is just not working for me either, I’ve tried it many, many times. Too cheerful. I usually write at my desk which is actually an old vanity table with a big mirror – I love the scarred wood with its many shades. And when I need a break I just make silly faces and laugh at myself.

    1. You’re right, Delia, too cheerful! It makes me wonder, actually, if the type of writing we do has an effect. I don’t know about you, but mine tends towards serious/depressing subjects, so maybe that’s why the beach doesn’t work.

      Anyway, love the image of you making silly faces at yourself in the mirror! I will try that myself – it’s good to laugh at yourself sometimes!

  2. I don’t really write so I wouldn’t know, but I kind of understand what you mean. Too much beauty can be distracting. Though my favourite place to read is at the beach, as it’s most relaxing. I find both your Barbados apartment and London flat views really beautiful though, but not in a distracting kind of way. They’re the kind of beauty conducive to meditation.

    1. Hi Claire
      You’re right about reading at the beach – it’s wonderful. Somehow writing doesn’t work though, maybe because it’s a more active process. Even more active reading seems a stretch at the beach – I wouldn’t take Ulysses, for example!

  3. I know what you mean. When I’m actually into the writing, I don’t look up from the screen much, or if I do, it’s with unseeing eyes. But wow, I wouldn’t say no to having a Barbados beach to walk out onto when I’m done! You should see the view out of my windows today – like the picture from your London flat, only with more gloom.

    1. Yes, unseeing eyes! I do that a lot. Sometimes I need to look up, but what I’m looking for is in my fictional world, not the one in front of me. If I look up and see something that catches my attention, it takes me away from what I was really looking for.

      But yes, the beach is wonderful for relaxing after the writing’s done 🙂

  4. I’m definitely a “blank wall” writer. In the past, I’ve always worked in rooms with the curtains shut, but right now, my office has skylights, so occasionally I might see a cloud but that’s it/

    For me, I don’t think it’s beauty that distracts me per se, it’s just anything that leads my mind to wander. In that sense, a cityscape full of activity can be much more distracting than an idyllic empty landscape.

    1. True, maybe it’s not beauty – it’s just that I find beauty particularly takes my interest away from what I’m writing. But you’re right, any scene full of activity could have the same effect. Personally I could never work with the curtains shut – I seem to need lots of light to avoid feeling too exhausted – but I know what you mean about shutting out the distractions. Thanks for commenting!

  5. I like a clean desk and a noise-free place. I find noises the most distracting when I am writing. Both the views from your windows are so peaceful! They feel so soothing and calm, ideal gateway to a word-filled world 🙂

    1. True – noise can be very distracting! There’s a guy around here who’s souped up his motorbike to make the engine as loud as possible, and he rides up and down doing wheelies. Drives me crazy!! But when there’s no noise, they are very peaceful, it’s true. Sometimes there’s a horse that comes to graze outside.

  6. Good point about the idyllic. I’ve always found that the few times I’m sitting in the “perfect” place with the tea or wine or what have you, no work gets done, even if I’ve wished for the setting for months. So yes, I understand your thoughts there. I do like to have a nice landscape to look at, but it can be distracting. Though I find walls very uninspiring so my desk isn’t against one. Quiet is a must.

    1. Hi Charlie, good to hear I’m not the only one! It seems strange for something to be too perfect, but it can be. It just makes me want to enjoy it, not ignore it and enter a fictional world. I do prefer a window to a wall as well!

  7. I totally agree with you, Andrew. I have tried reading at the beach but writing is impossible. I normally write in my room on my computer. I liked very much what you said about entering the lives of the characters and how real world beauty can be a distraction to that. The views from you flats in Barbados and in London are beautiful in different ways.

    1. Thanks Vishy. I mostly write in my room too, but sometimes venture out when I need a change of scene, and that’s when I kill the cafes! It seems I need a change, but not too much distraction. Thanks for commenting!

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