Go for a walk. Take a shower. Rewatch The Matrix. Dance alone in front of a full-length mirror. These are just some of the remedies I found online for a lack of creative juju (or writer’s block, or inspirational exhaustion, call it what you will). I had been working on an article on and off for about a week and had produced only one paragraph… one painful paragraph. In order to get my mind back on track, I needed a change of scenery, a healthy distance between me and the wall above my writing desk, which I’d been staring at for an alarming amount of time. That’s when I had a thought: maybe a hotel stay would do the trick.
I certainly wouldn’t be the first writer to turn up in a lobby looking for inspiration. Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie have all penned large portions of famous works in hotel rooms (Christie is rumoured to have written Murder on the Orient Express, not in a train car, as one might imagine, but from a stationary suite in Istanbul). Maya Angelou kept a hotel room for writing in every city she lived. She told the The Paris Review that she’d bring a bottle of sherry with her and wouldn’t let housekeeping change the sheets from day to day – they could only come in to change the bins. ‘I go into the room’, Angelou said of her hotel writing quarters, ‘and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything.’
It sounded appealing, save for maybe the stale sheets. So, on an otherwise uneventful Monday morning, I packed a small overnight bag and hopped in an Uber to travel the seven miles from my apartment to Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles. At check-in, the woman at the front desk asked where I was coming from. When I told her I was visiting LA from LA, she barely missed a beat. ‘Oh perfect. Happy to have you.’ I wondered if this was a daily occurrence, swarms of frustrated creatives seeking jolts of genius in mini-shampoo bottles and ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs. Had all of LA already been hip to this cure for creative block? Even if I was late to the party, I was eager to see if and how a hotel could help me see the light.
PONDERING AT THE POOL
First things first, I dropped by my room, slipped into my swimsuit and beelined for the pool. Creativity be damned – if it’s a sunny day and there’s a place to swim, that’s my first priority. Plus, I was anxious to see Hotel Figueroa’s iconic coffin-shaped pool. If I had come here to drown in my thoughts, what better place than at a sarcophagus-inspired splash pad?
Surveying the crowd, I spotted a woman standing in the water up to her waist and typing on a laptop on the side of the pool with such ferocity, it was as though keystrokes instead of breaststrokes were keeping her afloat. To my right, a man was engrossed in a mystery novel, while a woman to my left was plugged into a self-help book, nodding enthusiastically as she turned the pages. I melted into my lounger, hoping I’d absorb my neighbour’s sense of focus by osmosis and stared into the prickly branches of a 50-year-old cactus stretched above my head. A series of these super-sized succulents, tree-like in stature, line the pool and even make an appearance on some room keys. I thought of writers like Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, who used the woods as a source of inspiration. Sure, I was far from the great outdoors, but certainly spending the afternoon outside and beneath the shade of an iconic California plant was better than nothing. In fact, a Danish study from 2015 found that spending time in nature, even within urban environments, helps recharge the brain and prepare it for the idea phase of the creative process. I ordered a soppressata flatbread and glass of rosé from the poolside restaurant Veranda and settled on the idea that this coffin-shaped, cactus-lined pool would be my Walden Pond… at least for 24 hours.
After all that lounging, I decided a little cardio would do me – and possibly my imagination – some good, so I made my way to the hotel’s gym. There, I hit the kettle bells and pounded out a couple miles on the treadmill Haruki Murakami-style. The Japanese novelist wrote an entire book about the connection between exercise and writing called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. And he’s not alone in making the link between physical activity and innovation. Studies have shown that movement as subtle as going for a walk can boost creativity. Between cactus time and cardio, my stay at the Fig was shaping up to be full-fledged artistic immersion. And that was before I spent time with the actual art.
After showering, I went for a stroll through ‘Artist Alley’ – the hotel’s gallery space, off the lobby. Throughout the year, there’s a different LA artist on display, and as a nod to the Fig’s feminist past, all featured artists are women. During my visit, 13 portraits by Shizu Saldamando, an artist who uses her craft to represent the underrepresented, filled the space. There was a piece with tattooed Latina deep in conversation and another with a man in a leather jacket and cap standing beneath a Mexican papel picado banner – both rendered in coloured pencil on paper. A painting of Martin Sorrondeguy, the frontman of Latin punk band Los Crudos, standing shirtless in leather suspenders, in what looks like a massive blue wave, made another hotel guest stop in his tracks. ‘Whoa’, he said, turning to me and gesturing toward the piece. ‘I know’, I replied, just as the man remembered he was on a mission and took off. Soon, I too was on the move: this time in search of some tasty inspiration.
For dinner, I made my way to Breva, the Fig’s Basque-inspired restaurant. Once the hostess seated me in a corner booth, I quickly Googled ‘foods for creativity’ and landed on two sterling pieces of wisdom: have a bit of booze and eat anything that’s new to you. The booze wasn’t a problem as Breva has a menu stacked with California wines, draught beer and aromatic cocktails. I ordered a persimmon-fruit old fashioned – both boozy and new, so double creativity points. To eat, I went the new route and ordered squid a la plancha in a green harissa aioli, plus grilled cauliflower in tahini sauce with smoked grapes and pieces of tangy tangerine. The carrot cake I inhaled for dessert was neither new nor booze, but I let it slide. Writer’s block had never tasted so sweet.
To cap off my day of creative rejigging, I headed up to my room and crawled into my queen-size bed, pulling the Sferra sheets around me like a plush nest. The last bit of science I had read came from The Atlantic and an article that extolled the problem-solving benefits of sleep, explaining that the two main phases of sleep work together to help a stuck mind become unstuck. If a solid snooze was in order, a hotel room, far from daily distractions and to-do lists, was the ideal environment. As a final activity for the evening, I tried to find a scientific explanation for why cotton sheets feel so much better in hotels than at home, but before long I nodded off.
Between Hotel Figueroa’s pool, gym, artwork and food, I had essentially created an artist-in-residence programme for one. In the morning, I awoke feeling refreshed and snatched my laptop into bed, ready to write. For the first time ever, I called the front desk and asked for late check-out, not because I had overslept or overindulged at the minibar, but because I was in the writing zone. The seven miles back to my apartment felt like a victory lap. I had been in the pits of creative block and emerged triumphant… ready to create a piece of my own to make someone say, ‘Whoa.’
For more inspiring stays, check out our creative hotels across the United States.