A Place to Write

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Virginia Woolfe said that all women need a place of their own to write. Jane Austen might have disagreed, since she wrote all of her wonderful novels on a small table in the drawing room, with her family carrying on activities all around her.

Your place to write should fit your needs as a writer. Think about what you need. Quiet? A door to shut? A cork board to pin up pictures and notes? A filing cabinet? A window? Nice, neat little desk accessories? Many homemakers have made do with the kitchen table, but other writers prefer a desk that doesn’t have to be cleared at meal time. A few writers have even taken over a corner of the furnace room, that being the only private spot in the house that no one else had laid claim to already. Don’t spend too much time arranging the “perfect” space, either, if you use its lack of perfection as an excuse not to write (“I can’t write today — I have to find colored binder clips.”). Rather, think of your space as a work in progress just as you do your writing. “Edit” your space as an ongoing project.

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Who has access to your writing space? Do your kids feel that your things are theirs, too, and constantly make off with your pencils, staplers, and tape? Can your domestic partner look over your shoulder and critique? Are these things okay with you, or do you need stronger limits to your space? If your writing time involves statements such as, “Okay, NOW where is the stapler?” it may be time to set aside a box or cabinet of writing supplies for your use only.

No place in your house that works? How about turning a briefcase into a writing case and taking it to the library? At least you’ll have unlimited research material at your fingertips! You’ll also find quiet spaces where you can write undisturbed for long stretches at a time — that is, if you don’t find the shelves of books too distracting!

Don’t feel that you must have one place and one place only in which to write. One very unpublished poet we knew insisted he could only write when he was seated under a certain tree, had a certain kind of pen, was writing on a certain kind of paper, and the weather was just so. This kind of preciousness is fine if you’re already rich and famous and want to be eccentric. It’s not very practical for the career author.

Being able to write anywhere at any time is a useful skill. Get in the habit of carrying a notepad or index cards around for scribbling ideas, paragraphs that pop into your head, references, or anything else. If you have a laptop computer, get an adaptor that will let you plug it into a car’s cigarette lighter, and take it with you when you’re carpooling or on long trips (not when you’re the driver, of course!). The more adept you are at writing anywhere at any time, the more productive you can be.

Subway and train commuters can use their riding time to write by hand or on laptops. Natalie Goldman in Writing Down the Bonesrecommends writing in restaurants and cafes, provided that you actually buy something to eat or drink, and many writers enjoy the pleasures of cafe writing. If you’re creative about where you write, you can often solve the problem of finding the time to write.

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