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How finding a ‘Third Place’ will jump-start your inspiration

Virginia Woolf famously said, “A woman must have… a room of her own if she is to write.” But do you know what I’ve found? We don’t necessarily need a room to write; we simply need room to write.

For many of us, our days are filled with obligations. Got to be here, got to go there, got to do this. We’re busy from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed. That level of “busy” leaves no room to reflect, much less to write.

That’s one reason I’ve embarked on my year by the water, an adult version of a gap year. It’s a way to — finally — fulfill my dream of having room to write, full time.

Abe Lincoln taught me the importance of having room to write. What?! Here’s what I mean.

I was hired by Entrepreneurs Organization to train their international board members how to speak more confidently and compellingly in public. Following our day of training in Washington DC, we headed to Lincoln’s Cottage for a private celebratory dinner. Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln’s Cottage, in case you’re not familiar with the space.

I got there early and had this historical place to myself, except for the caterers. The moment I walked in, the walls spoke to me. “Space to think. Space to think,” they said.

See, each room had only a handful of items: a table, a couple of chairs, one thing on the wall.

I instantly understood why Lincoln rode his horse here from the White House. He came to get far away from the crowd. He came to be alone with his thoughts, to have time and space to reflect, crystallize his vision for a better future and create without distraction.

How about you? Do you have time, space and a place to be alone with your thoughts? To reflect and get your ideas out of your head and into the world?

For me, during this next year, bodies of water — oceans, lakes, mountain streams — will be my muse, my space and place to write.

Are you thinking, “Well, good for you. But I’ve got responsibilities. A family to take care of. A full-time job. Bills to pay. I don’t have the luxury of taking off around the country.”

Fair enough. You might want to do what many bestselling authors at the Maui Writers Conference did to get their books written: find your “Third Place.”

What’s a Third Place? It’s a place in public you can work in private. Think Starbucks, Panera Bread, your local library or neighborhood deli.

Pulitzer-Prize winning humorist Dave Barry told our audience — I was the executive director and emcee of MWC — that it was almost impossible for him to write at home because, “I’m an extrovert. I don’t like being isolated. Plus, the blank screen and cursor mock me.” 

Dave wrote at a local coffee shop, where the owner kept a table open for him. Dave said, “It’s the best of all worlds because it socializes the writing process. I can feed off people’s energy, but no one interrupts me so I get in the writing zone and get a lot of work done.”

As this Wikipedia entry explains, our home is our First Place, our office is our Second Place. If you’re a full-time mom or have a home-based business, your home is your First and Second place. It can be challenging to write in your First and Second Place, because you’re distracted by all the things you need to do and interrupted by people who want things from you.

That’s the beauty of finding a Third Place. Even if you go there once or twice a week for an hour or two, it becomes your room to create. You can get far away from the crowd and be alone with your thoughts. You can immerse yourself in a cocoon of concentration and get your blog, or book, out of your head, onto the page or screen and into the world.

Want a bonus? Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

Remember the point of Pavlov’s experiment? He would ring a bell, feed the dog, ring a bell, feed the dog. After repeating this ritual, all he had to do was ring a bell and the dog would salivate in anticipation. Your Third Place can do the same for you. Just being physically there will get you more ready and inspired.

Sam Horn, author of Tongue Fu!, POP! and Got Your Attention?, is writing her way across the U.S., and is on her way to her next “year by the water” destination, the Chesapeake Bay.

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