Hiram Sims Poetry Professor

The Writer and the Ambiance

When we had our discussion about process and success last week in class, Davina talked to us about the importance of the writer’s ambiance. She talked about how she has a nice chair and  comfortable pillows. She lights incense, candles, puts on instrumental music, and essentially creates the environment or mood that makes her want to write. When I write every morning, I turn on the heater, put on my bathrobe, sit in my reclining chair, put a blanket over my legs, put my feet up, open my laptop and start writing. I listen to this meditation music while I write, and no one is talking. No one distracts me. It’s not the only environment I write in, but it is my favorite one.


Ambiance is defined as “a feeling or mood associated with a particular place, person, or thing.” It is an environment created by a person that invites a particular type of activity. Interestingly enough, some people cannot do certain work unless their environment is positioned a certain way. My mother could not cook dinner unless the kitchen was clean. My father could not start work on the construction site without a cup of McDonald’s coffee. We all have aspects of our environment that make it easier to do our work. But what should we do if that environment hasn’t been created yet? What if we have not begun that work, and need to create the environment?


After my freshman year in college, I was on academic probation. While other students were studying, I was in my apartment watching hours and hours of tv. I thought that once you were in college, you go to class, come home, and watch tv. That routine was causing me to flunk out. My family flipped out, and thought it was because I wasn’t living in the actual dorms on campus (my apartment was across the street). They thought my apartment was too big, and I needed to be in a more traditional college space. I thought that was very dumb. When I went to my counselor, he asked me where I did my homework. I told him, “When I do it, I do it on the couch in front of the tv.” He said, “From now on, do every single assignment in the library. We have one that is 24 hours, called Leavey Library. See if that makes a difference.” I tried it reluctantly, and I found this beautiful room in Doheny library. There’s a picture at the bottom of this page. From that day forward, I never got less than a B in any class, and I got off of academic probation. 


The chairs were hard. The tables were hard. It was nowhere near as comfortable as the chair I am in right now. What made it such a productive place for me was that everyone in there was studying, and human beings have a burning subconscious desire to do what everyone else is doing around them.  My counselor knew that about his students, and I am glad to know it now.


Writing is an act of self care. It is you giving yourself the chance to honor the part of you that has something significant to say to the world, or simply say to yourself. If you treat this time as a special time in your day that is just for you, your mind will look forward to it, and find (or create) the environment that produces your best work. Much like that library, our classes are rooms full of people doing the same work, so find or design that perfect space for you to write in.  


If there is something about your environment that helps you write, share it with us so that we can use your experience to strengthen our own regimen. As always, read everyday, write everyday, and I’ll see you soon.

Written by Hiram Sims, Poetry Professor and Executive Director of Captain of the CLI(que). Community Literature Initiative

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