Last spring, I wrote an essay for The New Yorker about a notable habit common to professional authors: their tendency to write in strange places. Even when they have beautifully-appointed home offices, a lot of authors will retreat to eccentric locations near their homes to ply their trade.
In my piece, for example, I talked about Maya Angelou writing on legal pads while propped up on her elbow on the bed in anonymous hotel rooms. Peter Benchley left his bucolic carriage house on a half-acre of land to work in the backroom of a furnace supply and repair shop, while John Steinbeck, perhaps pushing this concept to an extreme, would lug a portable desk onto an old fishing boat which he would drive out into the middle of Sag Harbor.
My argument was that authors like Angelou, Benchley, and Steinbeck weren’t seeking pleasing aesthetics or peace (furnace repair is loud). They were instead trying to escape cognitive capture. “The home is filled with the familiar,” I wrote, “and the familiar snares our attention, destabilizing the subtle neuronal dance required to think clearly.”
Anyway, this is all just preface to me reporting that I recently stumbled across another nice example of this work from near home phenomenon. It came in an episode of Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic podcast featuring the bestselling novelist Jack Carr talking about his latest James Reece thriller, In the Blood. For our purposes, it’s important to know that Carr has a beautiful home in Park City, Utah, which, based on photos he’s shared on social media, includes idyllic spaces to write; e.g.:
And yet, at roughly the 16:30 mark of the podcast interview, Carr reveals that in order to help focus while working on In the Blood, he ended up renting a rustic cabin across town, where he would chop wood to feed the stove, and write at a simple table.
Home is where the heart is, but it’s not necessarily where the mind reaches its full potential.