Setting As Muse

Everyone knows how important setting is in a book. But how important is setting when writing a book? For some writers, where they write is a huge part of their writing process, and can influence every facet of the book, from the feel to the setting details. While most writers can and do write wherever they happen to find themselves, many have favorite places they retreat to whenever they can.


I spend most of my writing time at home – face it, with an 8-month-old, there’s not a lot of choice. I write in dribs and drabs as she allows. But there are places in my life that inspire me to write, that seem to open the creative windows in my mind farther than I thought they could go.


One place is St. Michaels, Maryland. There is nothing like sitting on the balcony overlooking the Miles River, letting the quiet seep into me, letting the “real” world vanish. The warm breeze, the water lapping at the shore…peace. And fantastic stars over the water at night—even shooting stars at the right time of year. It’s a great place to hole up and get words on the page.


Another place is Chincoteague Island, Virginia. Some of you know that I have been spending about half of every month there for most of this year. Chincoteague is the site of Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague; Stormy, Misty’s Foal; and Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, so there is literary history there. The island itself inspires writing. It is quiet and peaceful and slow-moving (except at Pony Penning!). The salt air blows ceaselessly across the land, bringing the scent of wildness and freedom from neighboring Assateague Island. But what I find inspiring is the town.


Most of Chincoteague is residential, houses on almost every square inch. Unlike the “developments” up north, though, it is not a cookie-cutter universe, with every house a replica of the one next door. Every house is as individual as the person who owns it. There’s the “just barely” two story house that is twice as long as it is tall. There’s the three story aristocrat towering over the 4-room cottage beside it. There the lavender-shuttered house with every blade of grass manicured confronting the weathered, shingle-challenged shack across the street. Every one different – and every one hinting at its own story.


Not only do these houses give me scads of ideas for settings, imagining what plots those walls conceal, but they free up my mind to work on quirky characters. The sameness I see in the north (big box stores, strip malls, cloned houses) stupefies the mind. On Chincoteague, where each house is a character unto itself, it is not hard to picture the characters who would have created a house like that. Peopling stories with colorful characters becomes easier.


Just for the record, I have also always found Ocean City, New Jersey, a good place to relax and write. I seem to have a water theme going, don’t I? So now I know where I need to buy my next house to maximize my writing potential – near water! Would buying such a house count as a business expense?


How about you? Where do you go to hear the Muse speak?


  1. Anonymous says

    the write location
    Do you like to write longhand? Or bring along a laptop? I always write on my computer, which is a desktop, so I’m pretty much tied to one location. But I think that a beautiful setting would be distracting, for me. And I need my comfortable chair!
    William Haloupek

  2. I always find the best place for me to concentrate on my writing is my bedroom. It’s quiet and I can really focus. What I do is open up the shades on my windows and when I need some inspiration for setting, I just glance out the window and it’s there. I also make sure to carry a notebook everywhere I go in case I get struck with some inspiration if I’m out. 🙂

  3. Bill – I used to write longhand, until I got to graduate school. Working full time as well, I had no time to write longhand and then type. That’s when I got my first laptop, so I could write wherever and whenever I could. So now I use the laptop. But I have begun using (paper) notebooks when doing major revisions – I find the tactile experience helps me think creatively, plus I find it more convenient to flip around in a notebook than scrolling on a computer. And they’re really portable, too!

  4. Melissa – When I was at home with my parents, my bedroom was my writing refuge, too. A nice cocoon, no distractions. Getting married and having a baby pulled me out of the bedroom and made me able to write anywhere, anytime. I still have favorite places, and I still write better when I can have concentrated quiet time, but honestly, we writers are writing all the time, aren’t we? Even if we aren’t physically writing, it’s all going on in our heads.

    • That’s very true. When someone asks me if I got any writing done that day, I always say yes even when I don’t physically write (or type) the words. As long as you’re keeping the story alive in your head, you’re doing okay.

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