Does Geography Affect Creativity?

Reading & Writing

London storms

Readers have noticed that there’s an awful lot of rain in my mystery novels. That’s because they’re set in London, which – although drier now than ever before – is still a city of dark skies.

I’m noticing a distinct correlation between my output and the weather, and not in the way you’d expect. Working at home makes one quieter and more introspective; the days blur, the desire to go out into London’s poor weather lessens. You’d think you would write more. Countries in the Northern hemisphere certainly produce and publish more. Sunny climes reduce the periods you spend inside, your life switches from internal to external, you do more living and less writing.

About a year ago I started to experience not a writer’s block exactly, but a kind of lassitude about working in London. The city’s weather is like a fractious teenager, hyperactive, tiring, unpredictable, moody. Why struggle through wet crowds to museums and galleries when you can research online? I stayed home staring at the screen, my mind blank. Unable to take exercise outside, I slept badly and produced little.

When I started spending more time in Barcelona I thought it might affect my writing output, and it did. It went up. Why, in summer temperatures coasting around 30 degrees C (and I’m in cooler Northern Spain) am I be able to write more?

Knowing that every day brings some sunshine means you develop the habit of taking walks or meeting friends at least once a day. When I’m there I lock down my working hours with more ease, blocking sessions of writing; 8am-10am, 11am-2pm, 4pm-9pm, 11pm-1am, roughly a 12 hour workday when everything’s flowing well. In London that changes to 6am-8am, 10am-1pm, 3pm-7pm, a 9 hour shift at best, and a slower working speed, with fewer visits to the outside world. I’m battling with the psychology of it.

The playwright Patrick Marber stopped writing when he moved to the country; he says seclusion killed his creativity. Constantly moving among outgoing, talkative people in Barcelona raises mine. There, young and old alike fill the town squares, arguing about everything. Here, we seal ourselves behind glass and develop strange notions of privacy. We stop noticing real life.

Writers have to create their own structures and divisions of work and rest, and I think it’s easier to do this in a country with a predictable climate. The desperate scramble for outside space on a rare sunny London day is pitiful to behold; climate holds us to ransom and affects what we write.

NB For some terrific, funny and appalling insights on how writers (and politicians and film stars) think, read Craig Brown’s brilliant ‘One On One’, which is a round-robin non-fiction book about 101 true encounters, each linked by the previous participant, starting and ending with Hitler, and taking in everyone from Hemingway to Harpo. Each encounter is 1,001 words long, making the book 101,101 words in length!

One comment on “Does Geography Affect Creativity?”

  1. Vivienne says:

    One on One sounds as if it is the answer to my Christmas present dilemma. Just hope someone gives me a copy too.

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