Creative Spaces

I can’t write program code in a Panera.

At least I can’t write it with the same efficiency that I can write 1700 words of a novel. It’s not that the environment is distracting, if anything it’s less so with the new headphones I’m using. It just isn’t the right place to think logically about a problem, research and debug code.

How much does environment factor into what we do?

I’ve talked before about my usual haunts, the places where I like to revise and write. My netbook offers the same flexibility for programming, I can write code anywhere I want. And yet, it just doesn’t “feel” right, I’m not having the same insights, making the same associations I would in my home office.

I believe in different places for different activities. I’m not a fan of my commute, but I do like that my work universe is fairly separate from my home universe. I’ve tried to write creatively at work and have found it to be a little stifling, either from distractions or just how it feels to write at this desk instead of my own. Weirdly enough the blog feels natural here, and unnatural at home, but again that might be because I first started writing the blog on my lunch break. There is a conscious or unconscious association in my head that this place and this time are the correct places to write a blog post.

Writing code takes a different kind of mindset. It’s still creative, but within a much more constrained set of rules, kind of like poetry. I’m writing in C++ and there’s an incredible amount of power in relatively few words, as well as unspeakable frustration when searching for type-casting errors, missing semi-colons and parenthesis. It’s different than the programming I do for work, which is mostly web and Javascript, because C++ is more deliberate. Javascript is free-form beatnik poetry or prose, C++ is a sonnet (Perl and LISP are Haiku). I listen to different music when I program too (heavy on electronic and weirdly enough certain Christian albums).

The upside of all this is that while I work more heavily on program code I will be spending more time at home, which is never a bad thing. Maybe I will find other places where programming feels comfortable, but for the time being there’s no place like

Does where you are affect what you are able to create (writing, art, programming)? How about music/white noise/silence?


Filed under Trube On Tech, Writing

8 responses to “Creative Spaces

  1. I find that I write faster when listening to classical music and have more creative thoughts when it is silent. So if I sit and silence for a while and then turn on music, I can create more.

    • I love that idea! I’m gonna have to try that. The other one I’ve tried is a white noise machine (ocean waves and the like). It really helps to relax me and put my head in a better space. Thanks rljackson!

  2. I have a one-track mind, so I can’t write (or do any other kind of thinking) if there’s music, TV, or people talking in the background. I think I’m in the minority there, though.

    I know what you mean about certain places being more conducive to certain activities. I think the mind does build up associations between places and actions, just like it builds up associations with everything else. Certainly it’s much easier for me to meditate in that one spot in the basement than on the floor of a hotel room when I’m traveling for business. But I suspect I’d get used to any new place eventually.

    • You’re not alone, both of my parents like very quiet spaces. I tried to write in the library wants and felt like the air was dead. The quiet of nature is another thing however, ocean breezes and the wind can be very calming and help productivity.

  3. I usually get my best ideas when I step outside for a smoke – I’m alone, all I hear are the birds and there are no “man-made” distractions… or in the washroom. Haha!
    P.S. You and my brother would be BFFs in real life. You could speak computer jargon to each other the way Star Trek geeks speak Klingon. (That’s a compliment, btw.) 😉

    • Taken as such. Some material on the blog is definitely catered to a very specific audience, though I try to keep most things general interest. I seem to get a lot of my good ideas either in the bathroom, right before bed or when I’m out running errands with nothing to write my ideas down. Attempts to keep a notepad on me at all times are not always successful. I’m listening to Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine, which is giving some credence to the idea of quiet places being good for creativity (at certain moments). As a creative type yourself you might find it interesting.

  4. Chuck Conover

    For some strange reason, I have found that inspiration comes to me in the most unlikely of places – like the shower. It is a shame that paper doesn’t last long when wet.

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