My head is my favorite writing space. From earliest childhood, I’d imagine I was either in a movie or on a TV commercial or possibly being observed from above by (check all that apply)
b) deceased relatives
c) my patron saint
d) aliens, or
I write when I’m walking down the street, or driving, or cooking. Much of what I’ve written in my head, fortunately, stays there. An example, this early pre-teen musing circa 1960:
The other night, unable to sleep, I wrote Haikus in my head. I’d choose a five-syllable word, say “pandemonium” and then complete the Haiku:
Christmas shoppers undulate
Credit cards clacking
The not-in-my-head writing that I do is on a laptop. On my lap. Either on the La-Z-Boy in the living room or in my bed. I always write with background sound. Most often it’s NPR, but it could also be TV – everything from a sitcom rerun, to the news, to Law & Order. I can’t, however, write when there’s music playing. Especially the kind of music that is marketed for the specific purpose of helping one concentrate.
Back in my other life when I wrote for a living, I sat at a desk. Without TV or radio I somehow managed to crank out articles and editorials. I worked in both tiny cubicles and elegant offices. Before I quit smoking, I believed that I would be unable to write a single word without a lit cigarette and a cup of coffee by my side. Since I haven’t smoked since about 1992, I guess I’ve gotten beyond that issue.
One of my earliest writing jobs was in the infancy of desktop computers. We used a program called XyWrite – the screen was black and the type was orange. Any time you needed to capitalize or punctuate, you needed to type in a macro. It frightened me. One day Sandra my boss saw me sitting next to, not at, my computer, using a yellow legal pad and pen. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Working on my article.” Sandra told me I had to use the scary computer. I told her I would, after I finished writing. She said I had to get used to writing from scratch on the computer. I was entering a brave new world. Amazingly, very quickly I became habituated to the rhythms of my fingers on the keys; I could write – and think – faster. I was soon a convert.
My smallest writing space was a miniscule room shared with three other writers. Fabric-covered panels barely separated us. There was only room for a computer and a phone in each cubicle. When you typed, you had to keep your elbows close to your body or they would bump into the panels. There was no room under or on my desk for my files, so they lived in a rolling cart behind me. I was always tripping over them on my way out the door. Once I completed a full flip out the door (or at least that’s how I remember it).
On the other extreme, when I was a magazine editor for a publication owned by an eccentric and wealthy man, I had an office that looked like it could be in a TV show about a magazine editor, all elegant furnishing and crown moldings and 10-foot high antique leaded-glass windows. I filled the windows with enormous plants and the room with high-end craft work gathered from my many business trips. I loved writing in that space.
The most challenging writing space I had was an office I shared with an obsessive-compulsive. He made lists of his lists. He’d line up little toys just so and have a fit if he came back from a business trip and discovered that they’d been tampered with (e.g. moved a fragment of a millimeter). He started making secret trip-wires with silk sewing thread to ascertain whether anyone had come near his desk. Sometimes his energy was so oppressive that I could barely enter the room, much less try to write something in it. I had to request a change of venue so I could get my writing done.
Shortly after that experience, I was moved to a converted stone barn that gave me migraines from the moldy stone. It was probably my least prolific writing experience. Migraines have a way of interfering with creative thought. Take my word for it.
I also once worked for a publisher whose offices were in part of her house. When we had deadlines, I wrote until 2 a.m. and then crashed in her guestroom. At 11 p.m. every night, she’d click on Law & Order in our office. The L&O dumm-dumm intro forever takes me back to those late-night writing sessions.
Except for the obsessive compulsive office mate and the migraine barn, I’ve adapted pretty well to most writing spaces. I’ve tried to write in journals from time to time, but I don’t have a lot of follow-through. Instead, I maintain a nice tidy folder on my laptop with multiple writing projects in various stages of completion.
My husband, who is normal, needs complete silence and a proper desk in order to write.
Should we follow our inclinations to downsize our way into an RV, it will be much easier for me to adjust, I’m afraid. We went to an RV show a few weeks ago. My biggest concern was “Is there a way to make an office for Paul?” I found a few models with a bunk room – with a few twists of the wrist, those bunks could be turned into a quite nice desk. As for me, I’ll just bring the La-Z-Boy along.