Scene of the Crime – Janelle Brown
Janelle Brown, author of WATCH ME DISAPPEAR, lets us inside her beautiful and collaborative writing space in Los Angeles.
Posted on January 9, 2018 in Scene of the Crime
Every author has a dirty secret about their writing habits and here is mine: I procrastinate. Badly. Given the opportunity, I will spend my days puttering about on social media, reading novels in the name of “research,” organizing the sweaters in my closet, baking three varieties of holiday cookies – anything to avoid tussling with the words on my laptop screen. This behavior is particularly pronounced in the early stages of a book, when the hurdles between the beginning and The End feel insurmountable.
Dishes in the sink? Writing can wait until tomorrow.
The solution, I discovered early on, is companionship. Get out of the house, with all its oppressive solitude (and so many opportunities for distraction!); and get into a place where there is a buzz of activity. When I was working on my first two novels, I wrote in coffee shops, but the lack of power outlets and the cost of caffeination grew prohibitive. So when a fellow writer told me she was having similar issues and invited me to share an office with her, I jumped at the opportunity.
Eight years on, we’re the co-founders of a collective writer’s workspace in Los Angeles called Suite 8, a group office that serves as a home to two dozen novelists, journalists, memoirists, comedy writers, investigative reporters, and screenwriters.
Suite 8 is humble, but cozy: an ad hoc collection of rooms housed in a ramshackle mid-century modern building perched on the slope of a hill in east Los Angeles. The desks are Ikea, the walls are adorned with a motley collection of art that didn’t make the cut at home, the tile floors are covered with threadbare Persian rugs. Our office decor will never make anyone’s Pinterest boards, but we at least have an endless supply of the most important tools for writing: coffee, chocolate, and fizzy water.
My own desk is facing a wall of windows, so that when I look up from my writing I look out at a view of the Silver Lake hills. On the wall above my head is a collage my husband recently had framed for me, images of the New York Times bestseller list with Watch Me Disappear at position 13. I keep a photo of my kids (ages 5 and 8) close at hand, in part to remind myself that my hours at this desk are bookended by the hours when I need to be available for them. I have to be productive during the time that I’ve got; procrastination is not an option.
I don’t come to Suite 8 for the coffee or the view, though; I come here for the company. When I sit down in a room full of highly accomplished writers, all furiously scribbling away, I feel inspired in a way that I rarely do when I’m working at home. I feed off their energy: if they can focus, so can I. (Plus, I’m far less inclined to fritter away my time scanning Twitter if I know that the writer at the desk next to me might be able to see what I’m doing.)
When you put two dozen creative minds together in one space, wonderful and unexpected things happen. Major plot points in my last novel were inspired during impromptu brainstorming sessions that happened when I was feeling stuck and needed to hash out my thoughts. Some of my most treasured readers are Suite-mates who take the time to give me notes when I need them. Members have written projects together, and are always in the front row at each other’s readings. We take coffee breaks together; chat about politics; vent.
Writing is by its nature a solitary profession; the work can take you so deeply into your own mind that it’s disturbing to be there. This, I think, is why as much as I feel compelled to write, I also find myself resisting it. But by surrounding myself with a community of other writers, the lonely act of writing becomes less of a personal challenge and more of a shared, collective experience. We may each be working alone, but we’re all in it together.