3.22.2018

Find a Quiet Place to Write

In our world of cell phones and text messaging, the idea of sitting down in the same chair to write every day may seem quaint. If you can write no matter where you find yourself at your chosen time in the day, all the power to you. Over the years, though, I have learned that I feel adrift when I attempt to write in a strange place. Since I try to write every day, inevitably I have ended up in a relative’s bedroom or a hotel room armed with my laptop. Sometimes I do make decent progress. Yet the duration when I’m immersed in the creative flow tends to be shorter, and many days the sludge in my head simply refuses to budge. So I would advise that you find what Virginia Woolf refers to as “a room of one’s own.” As with other aspects of making a commitment to yourself as a writer, choosing a single space in your apartment or house means that you want to use a central spot where you can regularly expect the magic to flow.

The more private the space, the less interruptions you will have. My office is the library, so I have a wall of books to inspire me. Yet in younger, poorer days, I wrote at the kitchen table, in a walk-on closet, in the dining room. In other words, as long as you aren’t disturbed, you can choose anywhere. I prefer an antique desk these days, but I’ve written on a wide board stretched across three tall plastic crates.

I am a territorial animal, so I like to mark off my space. You might want to buy a bulletin board and tack up favorite sayings or writing that you plan to edit the next day. I like art, so I have rice paper bodhisattvas and Klee and Wyeth reproductions and pictures drawn by my children lining the walls. Some writers thrive on clutter. Russell Hoban says his “room is composed of tottering stacks and shaky heaps of DVDs and videos, bulging shelves of books, slithery carpets of undiscarded draft pages, and delicately balanced objects of various weight and fragility poised to fall on my head.” Yet the Bronte sisters used the family dining room to write, and when Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte's biographer, first visited her, she was struck by its exquisite cleanliness and neatness.

The space doesn’t even need to be in your domicile. In many cities and towns you can rent out a writer’s space. Despite the expense and travel, the same practice applies in this venue. You’ve chosen a place to write. You make a daily  appointment with yourself to write. If it helps, pack a few personal items in your bag and place them on your rented desk.

Whatever space you make your own, it becomes a type of shrine—devoted to the Muse. You are the penitent, making the daily pilgrimage in the hope that today you’re going to write something really good.

“There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life.”

—George Eliot

Copyright @ 2018, John Paine

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