Writing can happen anywhere — just not in the office
I write in almost any place except my office during the workday. Because my best ideas almost never happen at the office; inspiration rarely strikes there.
Yours probably don’t either.
Over the years, I have come to the realization that writing is about ideas, not words or sentences. It’s about coming up with ideas that lead readers on an emotional journey, not deluge of useless junk ideas. Writing brings ideas and emotions in line, and it moves: it takes the reader from one thought to the next, in sequence and at the right pace, never achieving one form of precision at the expense of another.
But writers know that the best place to write is wherever you can catch a moment quiet enough to hear your own thoughts.
Isn’t it funny how our best work is done in the strangest places?
Some writers shared a glimpse into the moments that allow them to unleash their minds and condense their ideas into paragraphs and arguments.
For many, the magic hour comes before dawn in the comfort of a home office, for others, the dull roar of an airplane drowns out typical distractions, for some Lagos writers, the hustle and bustle of public transit works best for them. And for some, writing becomes the distraction from otherwise monotonous or painful tasks.
Ore Afolayan: Waking up before dawn doesn’t come naturally. But there’s something magical about a dining room table at 1 a.m.
Ore doesn’t think of himself as a morning person, but can’t escape the fact that the hours between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. foster his best writing.
“The period of early morning and predawn tend to be when I am most focused,” he said. “I will set the alarm for 1-something or 5-something in the morning . And hammer away at my dining room table.”
Ore writes intensely, finishing most pieces in one or two solo sessions after weeks intellectual gestation.
“I only look up to look out the window to my garden when the birds wake up with the sun,” he said.
Seun Odegbami: Washing plates does it for me.
Seun is a storyteller, and usually finds his best work is done while he’s doing less thought things like washing plates.
“When I already have a topic to write about but I don’t know how to go about it, I just leave it. And focus on a pretty low thought task like sweeping, watching movies, or washing plates. It helps boost my creativity. Everyday & ordinary things are the raw materials of a great deal of ideas for me. And I’m always astonished at the length of my list of ideas & at the sheer amount of what I do know. I don’t force myself to write.”
Seun also finds inspiration in another part of his home: the bathroom. And he’s more alert in the P.M.
Notiki Bello: Doing “low thought stuff” for inspiration isn’t a luxury this industry affords to its creative teams.
Most times Notiki doesn’t have the luxury of hidden spots, so he gets his job done there and then. He would often sit and think about the topic or subject he wants to write and then he writes it.
“First on paper. Then on my phone. And lastly on my computer. In between these transitions, a lot of trimming and refinements usually happen.”
And he absorbs new points of view by inviting other perspectives into his life. New points of view feed his creativity.
“On many occasions, I look at what others have written/said about a subject. And when I spot a gap, I write to fill that gap and that has been helpful in keeping original thoughts and fresh perspectives that not many people have read yet.”
Harri Obi: When I’m stuck, I question-storm with my super strategy friends. And I also use creative referencing to birth new ideas.
Harri uses writing as a way to distill, organize and work through things that don’t initially make sense when working… And one of the places to do that is his house because he has been working remotely for almost a year.
“Living alone has allowed me to think more and get more work done. I self ideate a whole lot. Because as someone who works in an agency, it’s highly important to be able to come up with ideas on my own, so my bosses could be able to trust me with clients’ jobs with a little or no supervision,” he said. “Some days I’m a better creative than on other days, so when I’m stuck, I question-storm and brainstorm with my super strategy friends — my peers in the creative services space.
Harri also uses creative referencing to birth new ideas. Whenever he sees something provocative or something that sparks his curiosity, he writes it down and uses it whenever he needs to come up with ideas.
Amy: I get ideas anywhere, as long as I have a notepad and pen.
Amy gets inspiration from other people’s pieces.
“I get inspired from other people’s pieces. It’s why I read broadly, listen to music and watch all forms of clips [skits, movies etc]. I can write anywhere, as long as I have a notepad and pen [notebook on my phone helps too]. I draw inspiration from everything.”
Toyosi Godwin: I don’t wait for inspiration anymore.
Toyosi is a team lead at the Writing Colony. And at this stage of his career, he doesn’t wait for inspiration anymore. He writes first, inspiration follows.
“When I get bored or stuck, I sleep. The surge of ideas that hit me when I wake up is comparable to nothing. I love how serene my inner self feels. It’s beautiful. At that point, I write. And I allow my mind to bleed.”
Kalu Othy: My thoughts come when I’m watching anime or listening to music. But I have made it a habit to make sure I document those thoughts.
Kalu writing evolved during 2017–2020 when he wrote everyday for 365 days.
“I began conditioning myself to write from perspectives that weren’t mine, with emotions I hadn’t felt and languages I wasn’t familiar with,” he said. “It made me able to write at any point and in any situation but most thoughts come when I’m watching anime or listening to music.”
For Kalu, the urge to write comes when he’s having deep conversations on any subject matter.
“Usually I write better around 2–3 a.m because my mind is clear but lately it gets clouded. So I have made it a habit to make sure I document those thoughts.”
Okay, what about me?
I’m a full-time writer, and I started to realize my best ideas usually happen at the middle of the night, in the car, or right before bed. For me, writing can happen anywhere — just not in the office.
Often, it’s usually the middle of the night. I then email myself to ensure I remember and then go back to bed. I have made it a habit to make sure I document those thoughts. I sometimes even wake up with answers to questions that I had earlier in the day. And I’m so disappointed any time I don’t type the ideas on my notes app when I wake up at 2 am or 5-something in the morning. Funnily, I came up with a solid idea for a travel agency while I was doing laundry yesterday.
So I find some of my best ideas come to fruition when I’m not in front of a computer. Whether I’m enjoying the outdoors, working out, doing laundry, or meditating — those “genius ideas” happen when I’m not trying to make them happen. My best ideas and solutions come to me when I am not thinking about ideas and solutions. I cannot think “out of the box” when I am inside the box. Fewer distractions really helps creativity. Beach, car, bed, gym… All away from most electronic distractions. This is why having a running note on your phone for ideas is so important.
To be clear:
You don’t need to be in the office to be productive. You don’t need to be on Slack to be productive. You don’t need to be in a meeting to be productive. You don’t need to be staring at your laptop to be productive.
It’s your job to recognize this and craft your lives in the way that best facilitates your creative process.
Also, whenever you feel less creative, finding some time to do a pretty “low thought” task like sweeping, watching movies. Washing plates also work. It helps boost creativity. Everyday & ordinary things are the raw materials of a great deal of ideas. You’ll be astonished at the length of your list of ideas & at the sheer amount of what you do know.
For whatever reason, these situations help my brain make connections within my work that I otherwise wouldn’t make.
Staring at an empty google doc as long as it takes to write is actually very effective in wasting your time, frustrating you, and leaving you with lines that make you doubt your usefulness as a creative.
Go to where ideas are! Learn from some these writers!