Even Before Sitting Down

Backtracking a Bit

I realized yesterday that I hadn’t really started at the beginning.  My first post was about sitting down to write, which seemed to be the logical starting point. But yesterday, as I walked along the path from the back door of my house to my office, I realized that I hadn’t really written about first things first.  office

Having been such a terribly blocked writer in college, I always knew that the place I wrote was important.  I learned that I could not write in the library, for example.  There was too much noise and distraction.  Even worse, sitting at a table in a reading room, surrounded by what seemed like scores of fellow undergraduates, I felt too exposed.  Anybody, friend or acquaintance, could walk up to where I sat and interrupt my train of thought, or worse yet, discover how little progress I was making.

I didn’t feel secure enough to write in my dorm room either.  Even if I was alone when I sat down, I never knew when my roommate might return from class, or a neighbor pop in to chat.  So I took to writing in odd spaces, small, out of the way lounges in the dorm, that didn’t seem to be used by anybody but me.  Of course, the space where I wrote could hardly vault me into the universe of those who wrote fluidly.  My difficulties were greater than that.  But I did realize that I felt more comfortable attempting to write in a place more or less of my own.

Years and years later, in the house where I now live, I had my own room, where I met with my clients and wrote.  It was a nice enough room, and I thought I felt quite comfortable ensconced there doing my work.  Then, after my husband, Stephen, and I were married, we needed that room for guests, so he transformed a broken-down shed in my backyard into my new office, with two sets of French doors that meet in the southwest corner, providing a flood of light, along with a wide view of my garden. And once I started writing in this new space, which was separate from the house and all mine, I suddenly began writing more fluidly and for longer periods of time each day. Eventually, I realized how much safer I now felt.  While in my old office, which was near the front door, I could hear comings and goings, footsteps and voices in other parts of the house.  And I was only a knock away from interruptions.

Now the space is mine alone, and it is surrounded by the garden I planted and continue to tend.  It is a place from which I can watch my roses bloom and fade, my dogwood blossoms unfurl.  Where I can hear the twittering and cheeps of goldfinches and sparrows.  The scurrying of squirrels.  A space where I feel completely fluid. . Where I can forget where my body ends and the rest of the universe begins.

Not every writer is as fortunate as I am.  And most don’t need the degree of privacy I do.  But even without a room of your own, you can shape a writing space that feels secure and inspiring.  I’ve worked with some people who live in apartments and the only space they can claim for their writing is a corner of their bedroom or living room. While it’s a challenge to create privacy in what is actually a shared space, these writers have found ways to personalize their writing environments.  Several writers have bought screens to place behind their writing chairs.  The screens visually separate their writing area from the rest of the room, creating a cocoon-like feeling once the writer sits down in her chair.  Others have hung curtains around their writing corner, surrounding themselves with pleasing material, which not only provides privacy, but mutes outside sound when they write.  It helps if these spaces open onto a window with a lovely view, but that isn’t absolutely necessary.  A painting or photograph hung on the wall where you write can provide just the view you need to feel safe and to offer inspiration.  So can a vase of flowers or a candle placed on your desk. Your favorite music is another way to shape the space as your own.

Not all writers feel the need for privacy, however.  I’ve worked with quite a few people who find they write best in cafes.  Away from their home or apartment, out in the world, surrounded by other people busy at their computers or with their notebooks, helps these writers feel less isolated, more part of a community.  And because they are sitting at a table, with a cup of coffee or tea to one side, the stakes don’t seem as high and they are able to relax more as they write.

No two writers thrive in the same environment.  What matters is that you experiment with the situation and conditions that work best for you, so that you create a writing “space” where you feel completely safe.

5 thoughts on “Even Before Sitting Down”

  • Dear Jane Ann,
    No wonder I have been putting up a bamboo screen fence between my studio and the neighbors and getting a locked gate across the driveway! Everything is distracting here.
    I am nearly done with a photo/book project I have been working on since 2001, and, just before the making the final “maquette”, I decided to rewrite the short introduction to the portfolio and whammo! I got completely derailed. It’s been a couple of months now….but at least I see that I am preparing my “nest” for the completion. Thanks for all your excellent comments and the crucial one of committing to SOME time five days/week. P

  • I used wax earplugs in college in the 60’s and found them very helpful. I’m not a writer but I find your description of anxiety apropos to other kinds of projects, too.

  • I am lucky enough to have a room of my own but still am subject to distraction from phone ringing, doorbells, feet walking down the hall. I have discovered earplugs!!! Something called Quies wax earplugs have helped my get my book started. I’ve tried the sponge kind you get at the hardware store, but the wax is far superior. I am not a salesperson, I’m one of Jane Anne’s clients but just want to share my solution.

  • I just returned from a writing retreat, which created an ideal space for me- protected time, a safe place, good meals that I didn’t need to prepare or clean up after, encouragement and no outside obligations. I was able to concentrate and write there and my demons seemed to take a vacation. Now I’m in the mostly happy, barely contained chaos of my home environment. I’m writing at my desk in the dining room, my Mac surrounded by odds and ends that I mean to pay attention to someday, unpaid bills on the table behind me, the dog patiently waiting to be fed, my daughter soon to arrive home, also hungry. – It’s a demon’s playground.

    How good it is , Jane Anne, to have the gift of your companion blog to help me recommit to my writing practice and remind me how essential it for me.- Thank you – Terri

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