Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Writer's Place

(With thanks to Rachel Fox among others for the prompt on this.)

my writing desk area

I've mused before about where writers write, saying that I don't think it really matters; the most important thing is to write, wherever and whenever you're able. I still don't think it matters, but I recognize that many do; my reply to that is that it matters if you think it does, not because it inherently does.

Yet many writers create a designated space in which they write. Many writers need this space to create their zone, or their routine. Routine can be important: the almost-ritual of preparation that puts one in the mindset for writing. Routine and ritual need a designated space. The advantages of this is that you can leave everything set up most of the time, so when an idea arrives, you can just sit down and get to it.

I learned about myself a long time ago that having a designated studio space that I just leave set up all the time means that I get more work done. If I have to spend time setting up my creative zone, I might do something else instead; if I had to walk or drive several minutes to a studio in another building, I'd go there less often than I would if I have a space already prepared. This seems to be true for most of my creative work; it also applies to meditation and exercise practices.

I have recently realized that my writing space is a lot less cluttered than many others'. I do have cases of books nearby, and I do have a lot of materials to hand. I don't think of myself as a neat freak, yet I discovered years ago that for me visual clutter leads directly to mental clutter, scattered focus, and scattered energy. So I keep my visual field as soothingly minimalist as I reasonably can. I have the space to do that, now, in my own home. I can designate a space and leave everything set up. That still feels pretty new and strange; this is the first home I've owned, and it's modest in scale although spacious for one inhabitant, his books, music, art, and other chattels, and I'm still getting used to every aspect of it.

Some years ago, I had a carpenter build me a custom-height worktable for art-making. I was at that time interested in working standing up, which I still like to do sometimes. I sometimes wrote at that table, I sometimes did art projects there, and I had it set up in front of my third-floor apartment window. Sometimes I work at my kitchen counter, now, if I want to work standing up. It takes discipline to keep the kitchen uncluttered; it seems to attract loose papers like some postal magnet.

For me, it's very important that I have a window with a view of the natural world. A window in which I can see the sky, its many moods, from clear to stormy, bright to dark. I need to see the sky, I need to feel connected to the outdoors. When I'm traveling I do a lot of my writing at picnic tables at whatever campsite I'm at for the night. I also write in the tent, late at night or early in the morning, bookending the day's adventures.

writing desk

My laptop is usually parked on my grandmother's antique secretary desk, in front of the big windows looking west at the pine trees and the lawn. A rabbit ran across the open field this morning, an instinctive dash to avoid getting snared by hawk's talons, and parked under the pine grove for awhile, ears twitching. In the heavy snows over winter, thousands of tracks have passed through the pines and across the lawn: deer, rabbits, squirrels, small winter birds, other more mysterious tracks. The snow melted in the unseasonable thaw last week, but today the sky has been lowering all day, and we're expected to get inches of fresh snow now, as the next storms pass through.

I often write here first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. I do much writing near sleep; it keeps me close to the Dreamtime, I suppose. I do most of my photography editing on this laptop, at this desk, with the portable hard drives plugged in, the printer warmed up and ready to spit out its quota of new images.

art desk

The art desk is both storage for art supplies and workspace for drawing, calligraphy, whatever. I also use this space to organize projects, put together photo sets, and so on. It's handy to have both desks available to my same office chair, so I go back and forth if I need to.

I also take the laptop all over the house, since I have a wireless router in the basement. In the early mornings, before breakfast, which is when I often write, meditate, contemplate, I sometimes take the laptop over to the couch and curl up in a cocoon of blankets and pillows. In warm afternoons and evenings in summer, I go out to the table on the screened-in porch, which is also glassed in for winter. It's a great place to watch a thunderstorm, a great place to sit with a mug of tea in the darkening evening and feel the breeze and sit with the laptop. During the warm times of the year, I use the porch as my dining room, hosting dinner parties out there, eating my own meals with the laptop open in front of me, or with a book, listening to birdsong or the white noise of distant traffic.

I tend to vary my routines, which makes me the exact opposite of some writers. Some require repetition, the precise placing of starting conditions, which frees them to think about their writing. I vary routines, I always have. I vary my driving routes, I find new places to sit and work, I even rotate my sleeping positions periodically. I find it clears my mind, and shakes things loose, to vary routines. Otherwise, I can get mired in habit. Far better to occasionally shake things up. I've lived in my house less than a year, and I've already rearranged some furniture. Sometimes things tell you what they want, where they want to be, after awhile.

Nothing shakes up my mental processes, in a good way, like a good road trip. Those long drives are where I do some of my best thinking. Then writing it all down at day's end, wherever you've ended up that night.

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Blogger Rachel Fox said...

Great to see your places and spaces.
The one I showed this week is mainly where I do computer stuff (emailing, blogging etc.). The desk where I write poems (I still write them...with pens and pencils!) has ended up...a bit lost of late, a bit forgotten and even ignored...I must clean it up, sort it out and get back to work!

2:36 AM  
Blogger mand said...

I write with a pen too, Rachel! Both poems and fiction, though i can do non-fiction 'straight to screen'.

Thanx, Art; i'm always interested in other writers' writing spaces. I think we can get used to different things even if we feel we need one kind of place. (Just as people can learn to sleep without their 'essential' before-bed routine, etc.) Recently i write sitting up in bed in the morning, until my bum is numb! and type it up later. But my very favourite spot, the one where i feel most natural, is alone at a table in a busy café with a coffee (preferably frothy) cooling to the side of my notebook. This isn't a deliberate attempt to pose at mimicking the Montmartre lot, just what suits some of us best. 80)

6:33 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I write with pen in my big journal book when I'm on the road, or camping, or otherwise off the grid. Sometimes when I'm just away for a couple of days I leave the laptop at home and write with pen. Pen is always an available choice.

Mostly I do write on the laptop now, though. While there are tactile and sensual differences between laptop and pen, I find that the gap between what, years ago, might have emerged in one medium or the other has pretty much closed. It used to be that all my poems had to start in the handwritten journal; now they still can, but they don't HAVE to, if that makes sense. They can start on the laptop, too. Or on scraps of paper, backs of envelopes, whatever lies at hand if, say, I'm out doing errands and don't have the laptop handy. I pretty much always carry a little notebook of some kind; just in case.

That's because I don't work at poems. They come when they come. My job is to be prepared to catch them when they do.

I also write/draw a lot with Japanese brush pens. They're like sumi-e style brushes but in pens, and with refillable cartridges. These open up a lot for me; new kinds of expression, new kinds of thinking. Or maybe very old, as what often comes out is haiku, haiga, Paul Reps style "Zen telegrams" as he used to call them, etc.

But I don't think of that as "writing." It's hovers over the edges between writing, drawing/painting, artwork, meditation, and calligraphy. Which way it tips is very open, very unpredictable.

10:05 AM  
Blogger mand said...

I'm having more and more trouble with the distinction between writing and pictures. It's all art - novels, haiku, calligraphy, photography, representational drawing, abstract painting...

I'm not saying the distinction is artificial; obviously they're not all the same thing. But i keep wanting a word that covers all of them. (Not 'art', Art ;0) as that covers dance, salesmanship, a whole lot more.)

10:12 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

That's very well said, mand. Throw in photography and video, and that's exactly how I feel about it, too.

For a couple of years now I've been finding the distinction between poetry and prose in particular to be, well, maybe not false, but certainly not useful anymore. It's one reason I've been writing a lot of haibun, starting from a few years ago.

I don't know what the word is, either. "Art" is confusing because it makes me say, "What?" when people use it in my presence. :)

I'm been moving towards multimedia based around the video and photo work. I've got at least a couple of finished short films that use photos, video, music, poetry both read and as words moving on the screen. Multi-sensory, multi-layer.

10:33 AM  
Blogger mand said...

Animation! i forgot animation!

1:16 PM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I've posted a photo of my office before. It's a very tidy place and I like to keep it that way. Carrie's office is a bombsite. The thing is both of us these work more in the livingroom. We have tables that our laptops sit on that we wheel out the way as needed. I even have a wee music system hidden behind my chair - even here I'm tidy. All I have beside me now are the copy of SFX I've not finished reading, two tubs of pills, a memory stick, a notebook I'm thinking of using as the basis for a blog and a glass. That's it. I have no need to face the window and the TV can even be on and I can work which I never used to be able to. At the moment it's Haydn's Piano Concerto in F major.

I have no need of anything special to work. If the power went out I'd just grab a notebook and get on with it. And a part of me pines after that time when writing was an altogehter slower process.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Jim, thanks for chiming in.

Writing as a slower process is an interesting idea. I think it might rely as much on attitude as on the technology used, though. I certainly am in favor of anything that slows down the seemingly endless acceleration of modern life, because one of the problems with the acceleration is that it dehumanizes. Sure, we can instantly communicate with people anywhere in the world, but do we talk with our neighbors at the mailbox anymore? it's worth pondering.

I also think of the Slow Art movement that happened in the first half of the 20th C., as a similar response to the acceleration of life driven by technological change.

9:45 PM  
Blogger mand said...

'Do we talk with our neighbors at the mailbox anymore?' I don't need to ponder that. In this village we talk anywhere we meet, whether we know each other or not. 80) I know - i'm very lucky.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I think you ARE lucky, yeah. That sounds like a good setting. I imagine it used to be the common experience.

I know it's fashionable, and probably too simplistic, to blame the rise of entertainment technology for the decline in interpersonal relations, but I do think there might be an element of truth to it.

On the other hand, look at us, here. Voices from everywhere.

8:40 AM  

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