Facing the Blank Page III

Many of the writers I work with aren’t aware of just how much the environment in which they write affects their facing the blank page. I learned this lesson accidently, when we needed my study for my step-daughter’s bedroom, and Stephen created a studio for me from the old open-air potting shed in our back yard.

It really wasn’t a potting shed; it was more an extremely weathered space, held up by one wall in the back, two pillars on either side in the front, a concrete floor, and a roof overhead. Transforming this space into my studio meant tiling the floor, creating four full walls, changing the roofline so it peaked in the middle and shingling the new peaked roof. I chose mottled gray tiles for the floor and two sets of French doors, which Stephen designed to meet in the corner, offering me a wide view of my backyard and garden. Once the structure was complete, Stephen created a wall of bookshelves in the back, and it was time for me to move in.

Having a room of my own wasn’t new to me. I had always enjoyed my former office, the front room of our Craftsman Bungalow, just opposite the front door. So I wasn’t full of heightened anticipation about my new space. When it was ready, we simply moved in my books and furniture, hung the art work from my old office on my new walls, and I was ready for business.

But oh, what a difference this new space made. The minute I began working at my desk, placed facing a wall where I had hung my favorite photos, just to the right of one set of French doors, I felt something I had never experienced before: complete serenity. While my previous office had been all mine, it was connected to the life of the rest of the house, subject to the comings and goings of anybody who walked into our front door.

Now, for the first time, I was in complete control of my environment. Not one unbeckoned vibration could reach me, not a single waft of air, not one decibel of sound. I was, for the first time ever, complete master of my place. And I felt euphoric.

To write freely, we need to feel completely safe. It’s hard enough that many of us house critical voices in our heads, but what if we write in a space that is not completely, unequivically ours? Even though you might not be aware of it, not being able to define your writing space as yours—a place no one can enter unless invited, a place whose boundaries you create and control, a place that reflects you and only you—can easily make a writer feel vulnerable and lead to inhibitions.

Not everybody is as lucky as I was. Even so, you can create a writing environment that fits you nearly perfectly. I once had a client who had to write in the bedroom she and her husband shared. There was no other space in their small apartment. Working together, we decided she could buy a beautiful screen to create her own exclusive space within the bedroom. When the screen was unfolded, her husband learned not to disturb his wife, and to “Keep Out!” by tiptoeing about if he needed to enter the bedroom.

I have suggested to other writers that they place an inspiring photo on their desk and buy themselves flowers once or twice a week to make their writing space inviting. A special small rug under a writer’s desk or chair can help delineate your writing space. So can softly playing Baroque or Classical music. Some of my clients like to light candles when they sit down to write, the gentle flames relaxing them as they begin to put words on the page.

A room of your own does not have to be literal. With small changes, you can create a place of your own, a space where you feel safe and inspired as the words find their way onto the once-blank page.

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