A couple of weeks ago I stayed at a Holiday Inn. It amused me to no end that the plastic hotel room key said "Stay Inspired." My first reaction was to snort ungraciously. "Inspiration" has become such a buzz word in the corporate world. What's next? Are airlines going to tell us that it's inspiring to be squished into a middle seat and pay extra to check our luggage?
I've never thought hotel rooms especially inspiring, but there are plenty of others who feel differently.
Writers & Hotels
Writers and hotels have a long history. The Chelsea Hotel in New York, for example, has hosted lots of writers over the years, including Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, William S Burroughs, Thomas Wolfe, and Charles Bukowski. Once he had earned enough money, Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, moved to the Montreux Palace Hotel in Switzerland and never left.
There is something about being in a room that doesn't have any of your distracting stuff that makes some writers buckle down and get to work. Maya Angelou, for one, always worked in hotel or motel rooms. She revealed details about her writing habits in an interview in the Paris Review, including the fact that she didn't allow the maids to come and change the sheets while she was working.
The author of Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within, a book about women and writing, also swears by hotel rooms. In a chapter titled "Motel Motivation," Barbara DeMarco-Barrett writes, "I love hotels, motels, resorts, guest ranches, and inns. I love anywhere that is anonymous, temporary, and has few distractions."
In an article in the New York Times titled "A Hotel Room of One's Own," Andrew O'Hagan agrees, "And a large part of the joy comes from not having any of your stuff around you. That must sound perverse: Everybody wants his own desk and his own tin of pencils, his own aftershave, his own towels. But there are times in life, I’d argue, when those things are just part of the general oppression."
Sometimes the hotel itself will serve as inspiration, as demonstrated by Stephen King who wrote The Shining after staying at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado in 1974. (I've stayed in that beautiful historical hotel myself, by the way. Didn't write a thing!) In his book On Writing, Stephen King mentions that he wrote the initial pages that would later become his novel Misery at Rudyard Kipling's desk on the second floor of the Brown's Hotel in London. That tidbit interested me because while I can't write in hotel rooms, I have no problem writing in hotel lobbies. (If you're a fiction writer, I dare you to hang out in a hotel lobby for a couple of hours without coming away with at least one story idea.)
Maybe The Inspiration Comes Later
I don't write in hotel rooms. I don't make jewelry there either. When I travel to a bead show, I enjoy opening up all my packages of beads and findings back in my hotel room, but I can't do any creating right then. It's not just because the lighting in hotel rooms is awful and the beads tend to roll around the room's super smooth desk. It's because I'm on sensory overload when I travel. I'm soaking up new experiences and can't turn them around into creative output right away. If there's one thing I've learned the last few years is that my best work needs an incubation period. I can churn out something quickly if needed, but it's much better if I have enough time to play around and experiment. That means having enough time to bead — and then un-bead — at least once.
I didn't realize that this was the case until I read Pen on Fire. "If nothing else, you can gather your thoughts, write down ideas, observe the people around you, and reflect on experiences. Working doesn't always mean putting words on paper." I always have a big burst of creative energy right after a trip away from home, but not usually during it.
I learned about Maya Angelou's hotel habit in the book Daily Rituals: How Artist Work by Mason Currey. It's packed with short descriptions of the work habits of scientists, poets, writers, composers, painters, and other creative types. The entries are about a page or so in length. It's the kind of book you might enjoy flipping through to learn who had to drink five cups of coffee or a glass of vodka before working, who preferred to work in bed, and who didn't begin work before noon. I learned that Agatha Christie, for example, never had a specific place where she wrote, claiming that she just needed "a steady table and a typewriter." This frustrated journalists who always wanted to photograph the author working at her nonexistent desk.
Do you write or create in hotel rooms? Why or why not?