From time to time, I assign my students an essay about their writing spaces. I share other essays about other spaces, some fairly spot-on (like an older one by my friend Alexis M. Smith) and some a little more out there (like this one on silence and sacred spaces by Pico Iyer). And then I have them find their own writing space, wherever that is, and describe it.
I love these essays. Sometimes students go the traditional route and describe a desk in their bedroom or a corner of their kitchen table; sometimes they wander outdoors and describe a tree they like to sit under or a coffeeshop they frequent. Often, though, they confess that they had never really set aside a space for homework, let alone writing, and that they tend to just do the work wherever they have a little (relatively) free time and a (relatively) clear space.
And these are the some of my favorite essays, because in my workaday life, that is usually how I operate, too. Even when I have a designated desk, like my basement computer in our old duplex in Wisconsin or my little corner desk in our flat in Abu Dhabi, or even a whole study, as I did in our Portland townhome, I often found myself writing from the dining table or the living room couch, and most of the time I wasn’t even home — I would frequently write in my downtime at work or by dictation on my commute.
But now we have this new home, and I have a new study at the same time I have this new time to devote to writing — just writing — and I find myself consciously establishing a writing space in my new study, a place devoted to my new job of a working fiction writer.
The room has three bookshelves: One contains my writing and teaching texts, immediate story ideas and resources, writing magazines, and my bookselling bag with copies of Box Cutters, Hagridden, and the microfiction anthology I’m in.
Another contains all my religion and philosophy texts. The third contains some file boxes, binders full of more story ideas, and some decor like my father’s pipes, my grandfather’s ship captain’s bag, and my coffee mug from Sewanee.
In one corner, I’ve set up my meditation space, borrowing from the “time in the chair/time on the cushion” habit my friend Todd McNamee described when I interviewed him a few years ago. But in terms of my writing, the main action happens at my desk, which is between my printer and my bookshelf of writing texts and story ideas.
Because my desk is a secretary, I had a bad habit of stuffing things in it and just closing the lid on the clutter, but now that I’m working full-time from home, I’m determined to keep it at least clear enough to write regularly at the desk. But I’ve also never really bought into the “clean, well-lighted place” theory of writing; I’ve always been more fascinated by Ray Bradbury’s approach of keeping a menagerie of odds and ends on hand as inspiration for stories, and so I keep a collection of things on the hutch portion of my desk: a set of old die-cast cars and a small “I cry for you” onion trophy from my grad-school professor Dr. Russ Sparling, a giant Lego minifig ship captain (that is also a pen) my brother gave me, a talking Buddha that tells bad Buddhist jokes from friends of my parents, a small Optimus Prime figure, a writing Winnie-the-Pooh statue from my wife, a Lego minifig version of me and my custom minifig of the Rougarou from Hagridden . . . . Next to these are my smiley face clock and my Sewanee name badge, and on the bookshelf nearby is a cross-stitched “Carpe Noctem” my mother made me.
I have other ideas for ambience, too. The big one is my collection of author portraits: the same year I completed my master’s degree, my American short-story professor Dr. Russ Sparling was retiring, and in addition to the cars and onion trophy I mentioned above, he also bequeathed to me his collection of author portraits that he had clipped from magazines over the years and framed. They include a lot of classic heavy-hitters like Carson McCullers, Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner, and they had long hung in Dr. Sparling’s office, where I had long admired them. I was shocked — and honored — when he offered them to me, but I have never really had the right space to hang them up myself. I finally have that space, and I am eager to get them onto the walls!
I also hope to add a few portraits to these, favorites like Jane Austen and Cormac McCarthy, framed to match Dr. Sparling’s set. But we’ll see how much wall space I have.
I also have my framed “Rougarou” art print from a Portland artist and the Hagridden-themed photo collage my sister made me, and recently my uncle Brad gifted me a replica Civil War officer’s sword as a tribute to my novel. I’d like to hang those on the walls as well. Of course, I’m already running out of space, and I’ll have other memorabilia from other books I’ll be writing in the coming year, so I’ll have to be judicious in my decor — and besides, I’ll be in there writing, not decorating, so all that might have to wait anyway.
In the meantime, I have my writing space at last — a dedicated study, a comfortable chair and relatively clear desk surrounded my inspiration — and I am ready to sit down and get to work!