Although I would later read about it in several books on writing, I discovered “location writing” on my own due to several circumstances at the time.
And the time was 1998.
After years of dabbling with short stories, I had finally plotted my first novel. I banged out the first few chapters in front of my computer, and while I still had the drive to finish the book, something wasn’t right. At first I thought maybe this wasn’t meant to be a novel. Maybe another fifteen chapters and I could shop this thing as a novella. No—that wasn’t it. Then finally, after wasting too much time snacking and staring out the window in contemplation, it simply “hit” me.
I needed to go somewhere to write this thing.
Of course, considering this was a zombie novel, the first place I went was a local cemetery. I had a day off from work so I parked on one of the narrow dirt roads between the tombstones with a mead notebook and Papermate pen. I took in my surroundings (and hoped the maintenance staff wouldn’t bother me) and spent the next six hours writing until my hand told me it was time to rest. Then I grabbed a burger and went back for another hour to re-read everything I had written and made some minor changes.
I managed to get close to eight thousand words done that day, and became a bit too giddy, thinking I had discovered the secret to getting work done. On my next visit to the cemetery a week later, I had spent almost as much time as before, only at the end of the day I had written maybe four thousand words; a good output, but not what I had hoped for.
Not discouraged, I decided to write my next section at the area where my next scene was to take place. So I made sure I had a full bottle of Poland Springs and I pulled into an isolated parking spot at my local shopping mall. And wouldn’t you know it? The words flew out of me like I was on fire. Nine thousand words, much of which I kept in the final draft.
During the writing of my novel, I wrote at about a dozen locations, each one giving me a different feel and a new inspiration. Within eight months I had an eighty-four thousand word novel in my hands, and to this day I continue to write on location as often as possible.
While I wouldn’t sell this novel until 2008 (and after close-to twenty thousand words were chopped off of it), location writing has helped me to complete two other novels and over fifty short stories and two novellas, not to mention countless non-fiction pieces.
Location writing also helped me to develop my first-draft system: to this day I still write 85% of my first drafts the old fashioned way (with pen and paper), my second draft coming into play as I transfer the handwriting to computer. While weather and time off from the day job often dictate the amount of location writing one can do, I’ve found it to be a priceless tool in the war to get words out.
If possible, give the Location Writing Method a shot. Find a location similar to the one you’re currently writing about. Don’t worry what others may think as they see you sitting there, jotting or typing away on the laptop; the busier you get the more the world around you fades out. But don’t let it fade out until you’ve FULLY taken in your new writing surroundings. Take your time looking at every nook and cranny, keep the windows open (if you’re in a car as I often am) and make notes of the smells and sounds. Make notes of as many details as you can. There have been times I’ve filled up both sides of a sheet of paper with minor things I eventually added to the background in certain scenes.
If this works for you—and you fail to reproduce the same amount and/or quality of writing upon your second visit to the same place—simply change locations. Or, with your notes handy, try finishing your current section at home while the memories of a particular location are still fresh in mind.
And let me know if it works for you!