How Does Where You Live Affect Your Writing?

Chatham, Cape Cod

Our surroundings are constantly affecting us. But how much does where we live affect our writing?

Southern writers like Robert Penn Warren are known for a certain cadence, a more languid or lingering tone. His writing feels like sitting out on a front porch on a humid night with cicadas buzzing in the background. Irish writers also bring a sing-song lyrical feeling into their writing.

A certain tone is hard to pinpoint and I don’t know if my writing has anything like that because of where I live. It’s probably more because of what I read and the rhythms found there. But Cape Cod definitely contributes to the overall feeling of my writing, either through descriptions or something more mysterious.

Descriptions of the ocean and sky are always sneaking into my stories. The changing seasons find their way in because I can’t help but be affected by them. If I lived in the tropics, I’d probably keep looking for new ways to describe the heat.

Hancock tower, BostonI used to live in a Boston apartment. Boston is full of edges and angles, like this photo. I loved the energy of the city and being able to walk everywhere, but my writing ended up sounding depressing because I’d describe things I happened to encounter like gum splattered all over a sidewalk or the smell of an alley. I remember trying to describe that particular subway smell: a strange mixture of sweat, popcorn, greased metal, and feet. I could never really fully describe it. Maybe the fact that it can’t be described makes it sound even scarier.

Of course, the fun of writing is in using our imaginations. But our imaginations build off of our surroundings. While living in Boston, I’d be more likely to describe the way the light hit a certain building to make it glow or the sound of different accents and languages mingled together on the city streets. Now that I think about it, I miss Boston. Even that strange subway smell.

Boston street

How does where you live affect your writing? Have you ever tried to describe an indescribable smell?