Favourite writing places and spaces (Tseen Khoo)

We're into the third week of Academic Writing Month and, to be honest, I'm still getting used to the fact that November is even here. It has been that kind of year; some parts molasses-slow, others blinking-fast. 

Something that has become more important during COVID-life are the spaces that allow us to gather thoughts, focus, and feel able to do - even enjoy? - our work. Too often this year, our domestic spaces feel too cluttered and occupied with the different facets of our lives, and finding a sanctuary for quality thinking time may be an ongoing quest. 

After the three-day RED writing retreat that took place online recently (4-6 Nov), I was thinking more on this point and decided that it'd be fun and satisfying to hear from some of our researchers about their favourite writing places and spaces. 

I asked a range of researchers where they felt good about doing their writing and were productive in thought and deed. I also asked these contributors to send in a photo of these spaces if they'd like, and here's the result! 

Dr Ashley Ng, a Lecturer at the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, contributed this photo that included her striking laptop keyboard! Ashley said, "My favourite writing spaces and places are cafes. This picture was back from when I was writing up my thesis. I spent A LOT of time at different cafes.

You had to pick the right ones that weren’t too busy or small so you don’t feel guilty camping there for an hour or two. 

I loved the ambience and hustle bustle, white noise backdrop, that was happening around me. The atmosphere forced me to really focus on getting as much done as I could during the hour or two I had decided to spend there and, when I took breaks from my writing, I could people-watch. 

Usually, the writing that I would do at the café would be the 'draft zeros' or a brain dump. I wouldn’t worry too much about referencing, I’d just write. I’d spend my 'office time' fixing up the references and reading papers."

Image courtesy of Ashley Ng

RED's Dr Jamie Burford shared an image from his doctoral writing days when he was based in Thailand. Jamie said, "Spaces were really important for me across my PhD. I began writing in Dunedin in New Zealand, later moved to Christchurch and then overseas to Bangkok to finish my writing and take up a new job. 

Toward the end of my PhD I loved writing in particular café on campus. I was quite superstitious about my writing practice and always went to the same café early in the morning. I sat in the same seat, ordered the same drink – no deviation was allowed! There was just something important about being able to rely on a cool, quiet and predictable place that really helped me get into the zone. Here's my photo of the window of the cafe I sat at (at Thammasat Uni in Thailand; see above). The people there were so lovely as you can see from the ❤ ❤ ❤!" 

Image courtesy of Jamie Burford

Dr Corina Modderman is a Lecturer in Social Work, based at La Trobe University's Shepparton campus, who recently completed her doctorate. Corina says, "My favourite writing space is our diner table in the heart of our house. This is where we eat, chat, play endless games of memory and where most of my PhD has been written. 

The table travelled with me from the Netherlands, via the UK to Australia. There are always fresh flowers from the garden and often the chooks and magpies check in on me. 

When the whole family was at home I moved to writing from the bedroom. It was not the same. 

I am now back at the table and feel connected with my surroundings again!"

Image courtesy of Corina Modderman

Dr Merryn Sherwood, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism, is a staunch Academic Writing Month participant and has previously shared her writing project board (which wowed us, it must be said)! 

"When it comes to my favourite writing space, the key isn’t location, but the associated environment.

 It must include coffee or green tea, enough space to spread out my laptop, Moleskine notebook, classic blue Bic, and the ability to run pomodoros (see the photo on the left - the image is from this tweet). 

Usually, this means a café, or a RED #SUAW (shut up and write) sessions at John Scott Meeting House, or the La Trobe University Library. 

This year, I’ve been rotating around a stimulating mix of kitchen table, couch, and bed instead but the accompaniments remain the same. 

Thank goodness for online #SUAW for keeping me accountable and engaged! 

It’s been a writing lifesaver in this mad year." 

My favourite space has good writing buddies and friends present - it doesn't really matter exactly where it is. I've had a few places that met this criteria over the years. The most consistent one for many years was Pearson & Murphy's Cafe (at RMIT University; see photo below) - arguably where academic #shutupandwrite was born in Australia and also where the Whisper Collective first met about 10 years ago.

I was a regular since we started SUAW there in 2011, admittedly much more intermittently in more recent years. 

Since we all shifted to Zoom-life under COVID, however, I've been regularly attending the Friday morning online SUAW sessions. Friday is the day I sequester for my research so time with that crew every week feels luxurious and hectic in turn (depends on what deadlines might be on the horizon!). 

I find that the most important thing is to embed myself in good writing spaces as regularly as I can. Every pomodoro spent engaging  with research work in a focused way helps me write more and better. The feeling of getting the useful words down is satisfying. 

So, take a leaf out of our academic writing books and find what setting works best for you!   


Other RED Alert posts that discuss the spaces in which we do our research: 
And while we're talking about spaces that matter, don't forget the #LTUAcWriMo photo competition CLOSES THIS THURSDAY 19 Nov! 


Dr Tseen Khoo is a Senior Lecturer in La Trobe University's Research Education and Development (RED) team. Tseen created and runs the Research Whisperer project with Jonathan O'Donnell (University of Melbourne), and is on Twitter as @tseenster