Friday, September 10, 2021

Writing Spaces: Wherever You Go, There You Are!

 Last week, Bobbi took a global view of "writing space," with a great list of writing resources.   I am a more literal creature; this week I'll talk about physical writing spaces.

When I decided I was a writer at age7, I knew I'd need a private place, where no one could interrupt me, or look over my shoulder to correct my grammar or spelling. (My mom was big on "corrections." Even then, I knew "corrections" while writing a first draft, messed with your creative flow.) 

In a two bedroom, less-than-800-square-foot-house, the only truly private place was our one bathroom. I used the wooden top of the clothes hamper for a desk, and the toilet lid as a chair. I was set! Unless, of course, someone else had a dire need to "use the office."

If I wasn't writing in the bathroom, I was writing during class, when I was supposed to be listening to a teacher. This is how I learned to tune out voices. It didn't do much for my grades, but it was great training for the future, when I had to write under less-than-optimal circumstances. (More about that later.) 

Home from college, writing in my bedroom

As an adult, I've been lucky to always have a space for my desk. Sometimes I used the living room (when I lived alone in a dinky apartment), sometimes the "guest bedroom." (We don't have a lot of guests). 

However, my best and favorite office was the guest room in our 15th floor Bangkok apartment. I didn't adapt well to living abroad, and I used the space to escape reality. In that room, I could live completely in the world I was writing. I put up my inspiration/mood booster wall...magazine covers of my personal heroes--not always writers--cards from friends, reminders of life-before-Bangkok, snapshots (remember those?) and assorted stuff that kept me happy and focused. If I needed a break, there was a tiny utility balcony with a terrific view of the city. I wrote My Best Friend (my first sale) and the first draft of Yankee Girl in that room.

Once we moved back to the States, life changed, as it does when you have a growing child. My daughter was ready for kindergarten, and my husband's work contract wouldn't end for another two years. Lily and I moved in with my parents in Mississippi, God bless them.  My dad generously shared his office and computer with me. At that point, I was mostly revising. The creative juices just didn't get flowing under the portrait of a grumpy-looking Martin Luther that dominated the small room. Still, I sold My Best Friend while there. (Treasured memory: My dad going to the liquor store at 10 am to buy celebratory champagne, which we drank right then and there.)

Now, we live the Atlanta 'burbs, where we've been for twenty years. My original office was the FROG (Finished Room Over Garage). The previous owner of the house had specific notions of decor. The FROG came with navy and white wallpaper, printed with ships' blueprints, window shades resembling nautical flags and a ceiling fan painted with nautical stripes. Even with bookcases covering the walls, the visual noise was audible. Therefore, I wasn't awfully upset when I came home from a week of school visits in Colorado to discover my office had been moved to the living room and my daughter had taken over the FROG. (And painted the blueprint wallpaper Pepto-Bismol pink.) 

By that time, I wasn't spending much time in my office. The living room only had one window, and it was mostly blocked by shrubbery. Even without the shrubbery, the view was my neighbor's driveway. The desk and bookcase and even my Inspiration Wall had been shoehorned in...barely. The piano stayed in the room because there was just no other place to put it. If you ever run across the CD of First Grade Stinks, I filmed the intro in that space. 

I wasn't working in my office...because my daughter kept me running. Between school and over 30 hours per week at the skating rink, I was never home. I scribbled in notebooks as I waited in the carpool line. I took my laptop to the rink. ( invention ever!) I wrote in the snack bar/lobby as little boys played street hockey around me. I shared table space with skate moms and screaming babies and teens talking on the phone. I wrote and revised Jimmy's Stars as my daughter and her skating buddies squabbled over my head. (Nothing louder than fifth graders in a snit!) "Not paying attention" in third grade had paid off!

For some reason, though, I've never been able to use a laptop in a crowded coffee shop, or on a plane or even an airport waiting area. I can write with pen and paper. (Once, stuck without on a trans-Pacific flight without a notebook, I wrote on unused air sickness bags and cocktail napkins.) But with a laptop, I feel conspicuous, that I'm taking up too much space.  I have no problem in room, the lobby, whatever. As long as I can move my elbows, and stare into space without bothering anyone, I'm good.

In the end "writing space" isn't so much the location of my desk and laptop. It's about diving head first into my fictional world, and staying there. All hell can break loose around you, but you aren't there. You are safe away, in the world you've created.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

1 comment:

Carmela Martino said...

What a great post, Mary Ann. I love picturing you working in all these different writing spaces! I do admire your ability to work despite noise around you--I never mastered that.