Writers and Places: Does Location Matter?

by Joe Bunting | 43 comments

Does it matter where a writer lives: a big city or the countryside; a two-story house or a basement; a culturally diverse or monotonous neighborhood? Yes, it does. Why is this? There’s a romanticized notion that in the past, writers were generally poor, struggling to get by in attics.

Artists' Sensibility

Environments affect all people; this has been confirmed in sociological studies of human life, and urban studies in particular. What surrounds us affects how we feel, what we do, what we think and how we channel these thoughts and emotions.

This is especially true for artists, as a special group of people more inclined to perception and higher sensibilities. Others perceive just as well, and yet the artist is the one who is going to articulate his inner turbulence.

Paris, writers and cities, writers and location

Photo by Moyan Brenn

Writers (and other artists) are responsible for the idealized status of London, Paris, New York and what they stand for. Sometimes, those literary city icons stay for centuries, like in the case of the cities above.

Other times, it disappears, like Moscow for example, or is presently fighting its way, like Istanbul nowadays.

It takes only a few writers to make a city immortal.

This explains the residencies offered to writers in many places across the world. The assumption is that even if the writer is writing about something else, inspiration may strike unexpectedly and motivate him/her to write about the place he dwells in.

If what you see is bleak, surely this bleakness will show itself in your writing.

If the street you’re walking on every day is boring, surely it wouldn’t make your writing boring. What it can do is influence your mood, and this is highly important for a writer. When an interesting thing catches your attention outside, it fuels your imagination and creativity, thus leading toward ideas which will eventually turn into a piece of writing.

Writers as City Strollers

Although it’s said that writers live in their own world, they are present in the ‘now’. The writer is the city stroller, constantly wandering about, looking and not looking at the same time.

A walk to clear out the head, a walk to collect new ideas, a walk for the joy of it, a walk for working out the next bit of your story, a walk with the purpose of searching your character.

The place you live in can definitely make your writing stale or vibrant; it influences your sensibility even when you don’t notice it. Don’t move to Paris or New York just because you want to be a writer. Location does and can matter, but only if you make it so.

Take a better look at what’s around, and find beauty in what is there; your writing will come alive along with your own spirit and the place’s. Why not give life to an unexplored location, reviving a place where only you can see its exquisiteness? It’s your story to tell, and let’s not forget that often the unremarkable things are the most remarkable.

How have the places in your life affected your writing?

PRACTICE

For fifteen minutes write about the place you live in, the general mood it brings to you, and anything you’ve perceived to be characteristic for the place – an urban exploration. When you’re finished, post the practice in the comments.

As usual, try to support your fellows too.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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43 Comments

  1. Al

    No one place is home to me. I’m a bum, a vagabond, a sea-gypsy. Call me what you will, it’s all the same to me. I roam around the world, eternally looking for a place to settle. Silently hoping I will never find one.

    As I write this, I am anchored in clear turquoise water off a perfect, palm fringed, white sand beach in the Caribbean. I have been here for a month; it is a relaxed life, where little of consequence happens.
    In two weeks time, I will be in the turbid waters of Colon, surrounded by noise, violence, and pollution as I wait to transit the Panama Canal. Beyond the canal lays the Pacific Ocean. Eight thousand miles beyond that New Zealand; my destination this year. It is during those eight thousand miles at sea that I find most clarity, and, of course, plenty of time to write.
    When in port I become the ‘city stroller’, soaking up places, characters and atmosphere, and then let them flow back out amongst the ever-changing moods of the open ocean.

    Reply
    • eva rose

      That sounds like an incredible adventure! I hope you keep a diary!

    • George McNeese

      Exquisite details. Vivid imagery. I want to travel to those places just to say I’ve been to the places you described.

    • Sophie Novak

      Al – the sea-gypsy, wow! It must be fantastic to visit all those places and move about constantly.

    • Steve Stretton

      Beautifully written. One day you’ll find a place, a place to settle, grow old and remember the good times.

    • Missaralee

      And…I’m envious. It sounds like your place to settle is the entire globe, your very own unending backyard off the stern of your boat.

    • Magdalena

      very interesting and the writing was fluid. I just have one question? How do you afford this lifestyle? LOL

  2. Ann Hinds

    I am going to leave this practice until next month. I am taking a trip to Tennessee to search for my great grandmother. I have written about her but it’s based on facts and five letters she wrote. I want to walk on her land, look at the river that sustained their crops and visit the grave where she is buried and where she buried her husband and children. I don’t think I can write her story without breathing the air she did and walking in her shoes. Then, I will sit down and do this practice. Thanks for the great idea.

    Reply
    • jamieb

      That sounds like such a wonderful sojourn! Are you involved in genealogy? I wish you well on the trip and a wonderful experience writing her story.

    • George McNeese

      Best of luck on your journey. I recently visited relatives in Illinois. It gave me perspective on things, as well as good writing material.

    • Sophie Novak

      That’s great Ann. Have a great journey and enjoy your time there. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to write about after.

    • Magdalena

      I dont know her story but i would like to! God bless you an dmay you find what you seach for

  3. jamieb

    I grew up in a town so small (how small is it?) that it only has one traffic light. It used to have two, but the other one was taken out so that trucks wouldn’t have to stop? So that the tow truck drivers would have more accidents to haul away? To make sure that pulling out from the avenue into the street is not only a trick but an acquired talent. Everything there is small, like looking at a village under a Christmas tree train tableau. The streets are narrow and old, although the bricks were paved over decades ago. The main avenue had the trolley tracks removed when I was young — and that avenue is narrow. The street I grew up on (now and then I have gone there on Google Earth) is narrow and gradually gets steeper until it dead ends at a stretch of very steep grass and trees and the Snake Steps, sixty-seven uneven stones connecting the bottom half of North Seventh Street with Summit Avenue and the rest of North Seventh Street which is on Oak Hill. The view from the top of the Snake Steps is not breathtaking. Only seeing my family homestead from that vantage point makes it special — and that is only when the leaves are off the trees.

    I don’t live there now. I live in a small city in a busy neighborhood that hopefully will cycle back to the way it was when we moved in. At this moment, I would like to 1) move away and 2) get a bulldozer and clean up the messy houses. I have no time for the clutter and blight that is on our corner. I also have no desire to be around the people in one house. Call me what you will, but there is only so much crap that I will tolerate. When I write, I write about my hometown, not this place I live now. I never wanted to come here, and now I know why. But on the good side, I have a lot of good friends and other contacts. In this way, I know I’m blessed. But please, get me out of here!

    Reply
    • Patrick Marchand

      Seems like you have a thing for the small and ordely!

    • Sophie Novak

      Maybe in the next place you live, you’ll be writing about this one. 🙂 We all tend to idealize the past, so maybe that’s why your writing goes back to your hometown.

  4. Missaralee

    The house across from ours is nestled in the shoulder of the hill. Settled in the lowland where the salt sting of Fundy Bay air can’t reach it and the fog flows through its foundations. Abandoned home of twelve children. The roof caved in before I was born and the front door is missing. The staircases grasp the joists, acrobats losing their grip. All that is outdoors ventures inside, erasing the family that was. The family that filled these halls with laughter.
    Their work left undone, the old farm machinery pines for its missing bulbs and spark of life. The parlour floor, littered with rejected articles, draws an old boot, a pencil scrawled account book, and a woolen shirt into its bosom. Clinging to the company it lost. Pot handles. Iron pieces. Bits of moldering paper.
    Upstairs, the brave may tread and find the pile of moth eaten clothes tossed from a long-ago stolen chest of drawers. The floorboards in the hall have abandoned their post, leaving the two halves of the home disjointed and distant. A single sturdy board is all that keeps the house undivided against itself. A thoughtless boy lays siege to this final tie and throws board and dust and connection down to clatter in the sunny basement. The skeleton of a lost staircase mocks the grand entryway, where company was once welcomed. Company does not come, thieves and friends now use the kitchen entry claiming the intimacy of family.

    These overgrown fields once pastured cattle and housed hyacinths and lilac bushes. A wife’s garden and flower beds are wiped out by the alders and wild plants. The orchards, old and decrepit from long abandonment, wave trailing moss from their bony fingers. The two-seater outhouse is a grim reminder that this home never saw the day when updates came to rest of Albert County. The latest in indoor plumbing and electricity never visited. The kitchen never grew to be more than its roots of small shed and smaller pantry. No, this family’s final meal was made in the parlor on the woodstove and burner.

    The family crumbled and stepped out of their agrarian roots and so the house tumbles down, stone roots firmly planted in the shoulder of the hill. Perhaps our house will fall too. If the division that breaks family ties persists, the wilderness will settle in the fully plumbed bathtub and birds will nest in the addition and attics. Someday a thoughtless boy will break the bridge between the halves of our house and sever us.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Lovely description! Brings melancholic tone to it.

    • Li

      I enjoyed this from the very first line. Good descriptions.

    • Al

      The feel of decay and abandonment came through strongly in your choice of words. Nicely done!

    • Magdalena

      exquisite detail!

  5. eva rose

    Bird chats begin before dawn and build as fingers of light reach the sky. Deep silence pillows bird calls in a style unfound at elite resorts. The quiet is startlling for its ability to permeate all thought and purify the mind.
    Our home sits on three acres minutes from heavy traffic, a half dozen schools and teaming shopping centers. Yet it might be in the heart of Appalachia, trespassed by deer, fox and quietly policed by gliding hawks. A cow bellows from the adjacent pasture, followed by the gentle bell tones from the neighborhood church.
    I once believe foreign countries held the key to inspire and teach. As the years pass, the soul finds solace close to home. Give me a place to think and a bit of distance from my neighbor!

    Reply
    • Patrick Marchand

      Distance from your neighbours is a great thing, love the description of the wildlife

    • Sophie Novak

      This is wonderful Eva. I could visualize it. I love this: ‘As the years pass, the soul finds solace close to home’ – something I’ve been thinking about recently.

    • Missaralee

      I like those last lines; solace being found close to home instead of in foreign countries. I agree.

    • Magdalena

      so true!! Family members always talk about traveling here and there to faraway places- nothing wrong with that but I cant help and love the beautiful countryside I live in

  6. Karoline Kingley

    I rub crust from the night before out the corner of my eyes, and throw back the curtains. Another hot, summer day. More miserable Texas heat to mar what should have been a good day. I hop into my 100 + degree car, and begin the journey east. After an hour or so, my general city surroundings diminish, and are replaced with quintessential southern sights. Small farmer’s markets, a few redneck moms and what do you know, our favorite old man driving his John Deer tractor down the road and into town. When I stop at the gas station and go inside for an Arizona tea, I’m reminded of one of things I love about home. The people. You can talk to anyone. Even though I’m standing in like with folks I’ve never met, I’m able to make wise cracks about the cashier with the old man standing in front of me. Behind me, a man and woman are exchanging gardening tips. And when George Strait comes on the radio, we all sing along. When I get my back into my dusty suburban, nothing seems extraordinary; but I am warm. The magic of Texas shall always be its vast open spaces, sweet iced tea, and friends no matter what town you’re in.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Sounds like a sweet place to be. It’s said that people make up for everything, and I believe it’s true.

    • Magdalena

      I love it here and want to live here! I felt the small town warmth! I would have like more detail. As an East Coast girl its hard for me to picture the arid landscape unless you tell me 🙂

  7. Patrick Marchand

    I live not in a place, but in a state. When the sun grows powerful and the days long, the snow melts and old Jack Frost leaves for colder lands.

    The flowers grow colourful and the birds start singing, but for all the glorious light and all the musical sounds of the fauna, one thing is missing, Winter.

    Only in the furious embrace of a blizzard do I feel at peace.
    And only in the calm winter morning am I filled with boundless energy.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      So poetic. I especially like this line: ‘Only in the furious embrace of a blizzard do I feel at peace’. Beautiful.

    • Patrick Marchand

      Thank you,I live in a mountainous region of Québec, so winter is my thing

  8. Steve Stretton

    The suburb is close to the city, about ten kilometres away. It is a wealthy suburb, though I’m not. I can see the skyscrapers across a valley, part masked by an intervening hill. I like this place. It has changed a bit in the twenty years I’ve been here. Houses have been knocked down for units, and even a new street has been built. The trams rumble nearby, and I can hear at night the last train on the crossing about a kilometre away. It’s a familiar place. I know the waitresses at one of the many local cafes. It is a fortunate place. I am fortunate to live here. It seems a gentle place but I realise that can be deceptive. Crime does happen here, but it seems more genteel than I read about in the newspapers. My friends had their dog stolen a few years ago, but I have not heard of any murders or major robberies. But who knows what goes on in other people’s lives? It’s a bustling community and I enjoy the amenities and yet the solitude also, as I live alone. I am not alone at the cafe and go there every day for a coffee and something to eat.

    Where I live was once an old Victorian mansion which was turned into a hospital and extended. When the hospital was decommissioned the extension was turned into flats. I live in one of them. It’s a large, comfortable place, a bit dusty at the moment. Outside there is an old plain tree, its roots lying near the surface as they follow the outline of an old World War 2 air raid shelter, now covered over and I presume filled in. I wonder at times what might lie in that bunker, what secrets it still holds. The road outside my sunroom where I write this is alive with traffic, so I don’t feel isolated and I know I am part of this community as it is a part of me.

    Reply
    • eva rose

      What unique history in the building where you live!. You must feel the vibes of former inhabitants. Interesting that you are able to satisfy your needs for friendship as well as of solitude in this location. I’m guessing from “flats” and “bunker” and “kilometer” that you are in Europe? Thanks for sharing.

    • Steve Stretton

      Yes Eva, I do wonder about all those who have gone before. I actually live in Australia, which some might describe as an Anglo-European outpost in the South Pacific, though we’re moving closer, culturally and politically, to Asia all the time.

    • Magdalena

      My best friend growing up lived in an old converted Victorian with a wrap around porch. Her apartment was upsstairs and her bedroom was, literally,the size of a walk-in closet. I loved it there! Your place sounds wonderful.
      I can picture it. Good writing

    • Sophie Novak

      Sounds like a lovely place, and you surely express your contentment. That’s what ultimately matters.

  9. Magdalena

    I drove the same old route I have been driving for the last thirteen years, left on Route 152 and a quick right on New Galena Rd and the elementary school would be on the right. You had to be careful on these roads since apparently the township didnt believe that roads should have shoulders but shallow ditches on either side. I couldnt complain, though. They did look awfully pretty when it rained and the creek waters flowed through them.

    I felt optimistic today and odened the sun roof, letting the April sunshine beat on my dark hair and pale face.

    I didn’t feel like stopping and I kept driving right past the old, tan, block-like school. The architecture was from another era when they liked their buildings block-like and flat-roofed. It stood not too far from the road surrounded by expansive green acres that backed up to woods.

    All that wasted land, I lamented. Too wet to build a proper soccer field. The geese loved it, though, and so did Mr Kramer, who seemed to enjoy jumping on his mower and cutting the grass in straight lines.

    The road dead ended at the entrance to Peace Valley park. I kept driving the winding road that cut through the woods, sighing. Lavendar and yellow wild spring flowers were already dotting the sides of the road. I followed the curve and the woods opened up to a spectacular lake that glistened in the sun.

    Making a sharp right, I pulled into a parking lot and parked the car into an an open spot. I didnt feel like getting out.

    The usual dog walkers and bikers were using the trail that hugged the lake. I opened my windows and let the breeze in.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      I enjoyed the drive. 🙂

  10. George McNeese

    The complex I live in is a community in the midst of rebuilding itself. It has seen changes in management twice since I moved to the complex. As I look out the window, there is one bright red roof on the lower side of the fork. As I walk down to the lower side to take out the trash, I see cracked panes, makeshift curtains, blinds falling apart. One apartment even had Christmas lights strung along the doorway.
    The dump site is a hodgepodge of trash. I’ve seen cathode-ray televisions, battered coffee tables and sofas, beaten toys. The ground is sometimes littered. I try to pick up what I can so no vehicles run over rocks or glass bottles and get a flat tire. The backyard is no backyard; it’s a narrow run of green and dirt patches. The fence dividing the complex is warped and rusty. Sometimes I see rows of beer cans and bottles from the previous weekend, which seems to be the norm in my complex. The only other standout is the small playground. I see kids playing on the plastic slides and old rocking horses. There’s a structure of what used to be a tire swing.
    I wonder how long it will take to rebuild this community. It seems to be on a slow start. When I drive out of the complex, there is a sign for what was going to be another shopping plaza, but it never got off the ground. I think they moved on to more prime real estate. Across the street is the usual corner grocery store, laundromat, and some local restaurants where the food is pretty decent. Still, I have hopes for this community I call home.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Home is where you are. 🙂

  11. Puja

    Make me a small town in West Texas. A church on every street corner, and sports bars in between. Dust storms the pharaohs had nightmares about. Land as flat as the tabletop you eat your burgers and tacos off of–land that spurts oil and blooms cotton, plowed by Mexicans once, but now just gleaming machines. Hypertension and boots and guns off the internet (before Obama takes them all).

    Maybe you get that off the postcards and books. Maybe you already knew.

    Reply
  12. yepi6

    I love reading short stories or novels, so I think location will determine a lot to the quality of the work. and I like the good quality work.

    Reply
  13. Jawad Khan

    your location gives you perspective. And that’s where the variety comes from. I believe that writers who travel a lot tend to have a broader view of things as compared to those who dont.

    Reply

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