On the wall opposite my writing desk hangs a large watercolor painting by an unknown artist which gives me the sense of peering down a long, white stucco corridor. The pathway, constructed of irregular sized brown pavers, is flanked by cobalt window shutters. Atop the last archway visible at the end of the corridor sits a small charcoal cat observing the comings and goings from the street at one end, and open courtyard at the other, both out of view of the painting. I like to imagine the image is set in Greece, probably seaside. It’s what I see when I look up from my computer at my writing desk, which is often.
Because I work from home, and because the space in my house accommodates it, I have a room to myself set aside as my office. I nearly hung a white board in that space that now looks toward Greece, and thought better of it. I realized having a jumbotron-style to-do list in my line of sight would be unhelpful for nurturing my creative work. My desk, an antique library table, is sturdy oak and fits my high-backed leather desk chair. (I’m cognizant of the dangers of too-long sitting, and work in this space for shorter bursts; the bulk of my work hours are spent at an adjacent standing desk where I carry out my day job.) To my right is a large bookcase, the shelf at my elbow lined with poetry titles, including Neruda, Hoagland, Szymborska, Jones, Barkat, Malone. From the top of bookcase, a brushed silver desk lamp illuminates the desktop. I prefer not to have an overhead light so as to mute the background. There’s little noise, other than the sound of key taps and the cooling fans of a couple of computers, unless I turn on Spotify, usually the Bob Dylan channel.
This space works well for routine writing assignments and design work. It’s where I’m sitting to write this piece, occasionally gazing off down that cobalt and white corridor when I’m looking for the next right word. One evening each week, I edit a segment of a fiction series from this space. Most Saturdays, I write my weekly columns here.
In explaining the space her office holds in the dining room of her home, Ann Kroeker reminds us, “This writing life is not an afterthought; it is who I am and what I do. As a result, I occupy a prominent room on our main floor.” Kroeker and On Being a Writer co-author Charity Singleton Craig consider the adjustments that must be made to accommodate family schedules, social and physical needs, and the things that keep a writer inspired to write. Says Craig, “As the years come and go, I continue to make adjustments to schedules, adding or subtracting commitments, letting the writing lead me in how much time I should spend. But always, always, I am attempting to arrange my life in such a way that this writing life is more than just a dream.”
Though my space is designed to suit my preferences, I’ve learned it can also become too routine. Because I do all of my work here, it can mean 10 hours a day working from the same space. A fatigue of familiarity can squelch creativity and my ability to focus. Several months ago I began going out once a week to spend the morning writing in a coffee shop. The lighting is different: fluorescent on dark wood. The chair is hard and does not recline. There’s background music and cups clanging and espresso machines roaring and milk frothers hissing away, not to mention the level of conversation that has to rise above all the racket. I don’t bring a computer. I write longhand on smooth paper using a roller ball pen with fast flowing ink. This is where I do my most focused writing, for three hours or so at a time, only looking up occasionally to see that Greece is nowhere to be found.
We’re reading and discussing the first three chapters of On Being a Writer together this month. The book offers several discussion questions following Chapter 2 • Arrange. Perhaps you’d choose a question or two to answer in the comments as part of our discussion.
- To what extent have you arranged your space and time to honor your writing?
- How does your schedule support or challenge your writing life?
- What are your challenges and successes in the area of time management? How about project and task management?
- What tangible arrangements can you (and your family or roommates, if applicable) make to allow you to pursue the writing life more easily and productively?
- Do you think it’s necessary to write every day? Why or why not?
- If you do write daily, what do you feel it accomplishes in your writing life: improvement of the craft? Adding to your body of work? Professional discipline?
Join us as we explore topics related to the writing life in this helpful book.
Our schedule will be as follows:
October 14: Introduction & Chapter 1 — Identify
October 21: Chapter 2 — Arrange
October 28: Chapter 3 — Surround
We recommend you purchase a copy of the complete book for our community discussion, or you can download an ebook version of the first three chapters at Noisetrade for free.
DOWNLOAD FREE EXCERPT AT NOISETRADE
Photo by Ashton, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by LW Lindquist.
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#5. Do I think it’s necessary to write every day? Why or why not?
I’d like to say “yes, of course, undeniably true,” but for me that would be a lie. Why would I want to say that? Because that’s what those great writers who tell us how to do it tell us to do all the time. I don’t. I can’t. I refuse to feel bad about it, too. Most of the time, anyway. It’s my dirty little secret. Please don’t tell anyone. Maybe I don’t want to because everyone says I am supposed to (I am kind of stubborn that way- contrary about things that I feel are highly personal. Writing is one of those.) Maybe I can’t because, unless I have a specific project, I am a little bit on the wind. That’s okay. These down times, I feel, make my up times more fruitful.
When I am deep into writing something specific I can’t help but want to write every day – in fact I need to write every day. If I have had one of those impossible to write days I will, more often than not, sacrifice sleep and stay up in the dark house to do a little bit of writing. That little bit often rolls into a much larger bit. When I am deeply working on something, it’s not the writing that is the challenge…. I forget to eat. I forget to make dinner. I sometimes forget to move for far longer than my body approves of. When I am writing something difficult, emotionally difficult, then I alternate writing with painting, or music, or a walk – and of course, my other dirty little secret – a General Hospital break (shhhh please don’t let THAT cat out of the bag).
#2. How does my schedule support or challenge my writing life? I have a nice little routine at home and have gotten used to the reality that if I want to write, or do anything, I just have to find a way to do it in the middle of everyone else’s busy lives. I live with my husband and two adult sons. Everyone’s work and school schedules are posted in the kitchen and I consult them daily, often several times. These schedules tell me when my house will be empty and when to expect mini bursts of activity, because I write in the kitchen/living room/dining room where those mini bursts happen most. It’s not that I can’t write when other people are around, but certain topics need privacy, and the other things – well… it just helps me to know when to expect my family to come and go, cook and eat, or need a ride somewhere. I also have a favorite coffee shop. I consider it my “co-working” space! 🙂 I arrange to have a car one day a week so that I can go there and write for hours.
Will Willingham says
I don’t write every day.
I mean, I do. Because I function online, writing words is how I communicate. And in my day job I write letters all day. So in terms of stringing words together for some purpose or another, yes I write every day, and imagine on that same level you do too. 🙂
But I don’t do purposeful writing-as-writing every day. I think some people need to, and if that’s true for a person, they should do it. But I don’t think it’s something that a writer needs to do arbitrarily because someone else said it was necessary. Now *reading* — that’s something I might say we should make a way to do every day. (Beyond reading our email and the news and Facebook.) Even a little. Even a haiku. On-purpose, stop what you’re doing and read something kind of reading. On as many days as we can manage it. That, I think, will do more for our writing (and our souls) than writing every day.
This right here — “I arrange to have a car one day a week…” I love that. It’s no easy task, I imagine. And yet there’s the priority. Your writing and your center need that outing, and you “arrange” for it. 🙂
You’re right… yes, I do write every day in that sense… I wonder if I’ve ever lived a day in my adult life when I didn’t write SOMETHING.
And… today is one of those days when I am off to Duffy’s Coffee House!
Vicki Addesso says
Writing every day is a tough one. I do write in my journal daily, spending maybe a half hour doing so. I try to do it first thing in morning, before anything else has a chance to push out my on thoughts. But working at writing every day is difficult, as I work at so many other things (my job, my family, etc.) My daily schedule changes all the time (my husband is a firefighter and works 24 hour shifts, and my job as a personal assistant requires me to work odd and varied hours) so being consistent at sitting down to write is impossible. But, I do work at writing, just not as much as I’d like, or need to actually.
Will Willingham says
I think that kind of writing, daily, is a great practice, and that you are doing it is a very good thing, Vicki. That you are able to continue that practice in the midst of the challenges of life and scheduling tells me it has value to you, it is something that works for you in a way that it establishes itself as a priority. (I tend to agree in many ways with those who say we don’t ‘set’ priorities but honor them.)
So for the more formal writing, yes, it’s harder to schedule that, but I imagine when the time comes for it to be done, it finds a way. That’s how it works for me, anyway. If I’m not working on a project, I don’t tend to write or make time for it. But when there’s something in the works or something due, then I pry back an opening in the schedule. (If I were not working on a particular project I’m not sure my weekly outing would happen, for instance.)
L. L. Barkat says
I really like Ann’s description of her writing space in this chapter, because it shows how she works despite the constraints of a limited “room of one’s own.”
I have always dreamed of such a room. Though I’m not sure I’d do much writing in it. (Maybe more reading, as you mention in your comment to Donna, which is also a part of the writing process. 🙂 )
This week I admit I laughed out loud when reading a big tech guy’s blog and he talked about how impossible it would be to write with kids around. Um. Welcome to my world. (And a lot of other people’s worlds.)
Your writing space/s sound so wonderful. But maybe you just… write them that way 😉
Will Willingham says
I am very happy with my spaces, and grateful to have a room of my own, which I know is something in short supply for many.
There is probably something to the writing of the space in a particular way, perhaps even writing it as I wish to see it. Which means not mentioning the imposing nature of my standing desk where I work claims, or the cobwebs in the corners, or that the door trim and baseboards have never been installed. That it is a basement means a lack of sunlight and the damp odors that come with that. So it is not an idyllic space, and yet in my mind it can be when I wish it to be. 🙂
Megan Willome says
I usually write daily, but sometimes when I get in the thick of the deadlines of editing for the magazine (like this week) it falls off. I tend to feel very drained if chasing commas is all I do. But at the end of yesterday, while researching for an article, I got a tiny spark of inspiration, something that may turn into an intro or a conclusion. Writing for those few minutes restored my energy.
Will Willingham says
I like that, writing for a few minutes because there was a few minutes and because there was inspiration — rather than confining that to a certain scheduled writing time.
For me, that inspiration might well be gone when the scheduled time came, even it came with several hours instead of a few minutes. 🙂
Carol Longenecker Hiestand says
It was at Ann and Charity’s workshop at Jumping Tandem that got me thinking of how i write and what I need. I even wrote a blog post on it. It involves a meaningful crackling candle, a photo of my family, a glass heart, a colorful journal, a pen and a special coffee cup. all have meaning as to why I write. (my focus is memoir for my family)
I also cleaned (with help) my office so I love it.
I do write almost everyday if we include journal writing. most of what I end up “writing” starts there. I have the book….and I can’t find it. going to have to order another one. really liked it.
Will Willingham says
Hi Carol, great to see you here. 🙂
I think surrounding yourself with those symbols of why you write is great. I have some symbols, which curiously enough are usually behind me when I write. But I think having the little things nearby is important and helpful.
(And glad to see you found the book. 🙂
Laura Brown says
1. My desk is in a corner of my room, with a good lamp, tea or coffee to the right of my computer, usually a cat to the left, and atop the desk, some books that make me happy to have at hand, even if I seldom open them; a good lamp; and various small meaningful items. My MFA diploma hangs on the wall above the desk.
I’ve arranged my space better than I’ve arranged my time, except in the sense that the desk itself represents time; an aunt gave it to me when I was a teenager and I’ve done much of my writing at it.
Will Willingham says
Love that you are using a desk you’ve used for so many years. And I’m amused at the cat, wondering if it stays to the left, or sometimes joins your hands on the keyboard. 🙂
Laura Brown says
She sometimes lays her head along the edge of it, and sometimes stretches an arm across the keys.
I’ve been thinking about your question about arranging time as well as space. I’m not as good at that as I’d like to be. But one way I’ve sometimes successfully arranged my time is to get up at 6, make coffee or tea, go to the desk and write. (A programmable coffeemaker set up the night before acts as an olfactory alarm clock.) It helps to queue up what I want to work on the night before and have it on my desktop (or to clear the table and lay out the notebook and pencils, if I’m planning to write by hand), just like laying out the clothes I plan to wear the night before. And it helps to enforce a bedtime.
Sandra Heska King says
I have a “penthouse” room where I moved from the “dungeon” after my son moved out. (It was his bedroom.) It has windows that overlook the field and woods. I have a big white wraparound-the-corner desk and a rolling chair that rolls across the sloping wood floor, and I have to wrap my leg around a desk leg. I’ve got bookcases and a rocking chair…
But I moved a port-a-crib in there 5 years ago when Lil was wee. Since she’s moved into a closet with a rollaway, and clutter has taken over my room. So I’ve been writing at the kitchen table. Getting back where I “belong” is on my to-do list. 🙂
L. L. Barkat says
I love the leg wrap. Feels a little metaphoric.
Reading all these notes on people’s writing spaces, I realize I don’t have a writing space. That space is in my head. It is the mental space that says “yes” or “no” and ignores geography. I write anywhere. The determinant to whether I write is whether I feel I can offer someone something of worth. I remember when I realized that that’s the kind of writer I am, and I gave it a name that has a double meaning: I am an “occasional writer.” 🙂 This changed a lot for me. Freed me. You won’t find me writing every day. Or even every week. (Besides things I must do like list-making.) Sometimes I will go months. Even years.
Vicki Addesso says
I wrote about “Arrange” on my Tumblr blog a few weeks back:
Things are always in flux, and I do look forward to having a room of my own for writing someday…