Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Room (or Desk) of One's Own

One of the first questions I always ask when I interview an author is, "Do you have any writing rituals or unbreakable habits? Staring into the fridge or wandering aimlessly, maybe?"

I ask this question because it's one of those things that confounds me as a writer. Whether I'm working on a term paper for my graduate coursework (no more, by the way, I'm almost done), writing a freelance article or drafting a review for Estella's Revenge, I have habits. Unbreakable habits. Annoying, horrible habits.

First and foremost, I'm a wanderer. That is, I'll sit down to write, I'll think, I'll put a few words to paper, and I'll get up and wander away. I'll walk aimlessly, stare into the fridge, look out the door, and come back to my computer. From there I'll commit another paragraph or so to paper, get up, and wander some more. It's exhausting, really. A little like interval training. Walk for a bit, sprint like a madwoman, slow back down to a trudge and then run like hell until all tired out again.

I got quite the reputation when I was working on my Master's thesis proposal as I would draft a page or so, wander into the Communication Skills Center to visit the tutors, and eventually sigh heavily, make a snide remark, and return to my computer. They--and I--all thought it was nutty, but I suppose it worked.

Beyond the unbreakable habits, I'm also interested in the locations where people write. I'm quite the finicky number when it comes to writing location. I can't write just anywhere. I can't deal with writing more than a sentence or two longhand, and I can't have too many distractions. While in my younger days (think teens), I could read or write in the middle of a hurricane. Give me radio! Give me T.V.! Give me cows flying by the window and ants in my pants! I could write through it all.

Now, give me quiet! Give me peace! Give me all noise-making appliances in the "off" position!

Call it age, call it adult onset ADD, call it what you like. I don't do noise and distraction. The wandering is the distraction. I can control that.

These days I call the kitchen table my office, and it works really well. I'm positioned in a large open space. I can see the living room, I can peek down the hall. I have two sunny windows to my left and a refrigerator mere feet away to stare into. It's heaven. What happens when the office is ready? Nicely filled with a desk, bookshelves and eight miles of books? Hell if I know. I just hope it works as well as this old kitchen table. If not, I'm probably screwed.

We're finicky things, we writers. Or maybe it's just me. I hear there are many much-more-talented-than-I scribblers who can write with dogs chewing on their feet, children clutching their pant legs and herds of antelope galloping through their space. Not me. Oh no. I'm much more high maintenance than that. Give me a quiet kitchen and a GE ice box, and I'm your girl.

*Please note, the charming photograph at the top is most definitely not my writing space. I could never writing sitting in a comfy leather chair. Too pleasant. I need a hard wooden chair that puts my butt to sleep. Keeps me alert and on my toes. But it is a nice picture, yes?

**Please note again, this post is simulcast at Estella Scribbles.


  1. The only truly unbreakable writing habit I have is procrastination. I can find all kinds of other things to do before starting the paper. Wash dishes, take a shower, go for a walk, straighten my bookshelves, braid my hair, sort out my photos, and OMG look at how those coloured pens got all out of order!!! *snort* My writing space looks kinda like the photo you posted, though. 'Cept my chair is worn out, faded fabric with a really yucky brown/beige floral print; and my "footstool" is the wooden desk chair that I pull across the room cuz I don't own a proper ottoman, don't wanna spend the money, and don't have space to keep one anyways; and the walls are grungy used-to-be-white horrid wallpaper that's peeling off in every corner and along every seam; and I don't own a dog. Okay. Now that I think about it I guess it's not much the same at all. But I do have that annoying sloped ceiling above my head that always seems to get in the way when alighting into or emerging from one's writing fervour. Just one of the perils of life in a third-floor dusty Dickensian garret.

    As far as distractions, I cannot work ANYWHERE where people are moving around, such as at the library. I utterly HATE doing research or writing at the library. The whispering around me makes me nuts. But I've gotta have music, and I've gotta use my earbuds plugged into my laptop, and the volume tends to get scooched up higher and higher until it's eventually at its max. The genre doesn't matter -- it can be jazz, rock, blues, classical, whatever -- but It has to be familiar music, not NEW music. Familiar music just blends into the background; new music draws my attention away from the work. And once I do (finally) get out of procrastination mode and settled in my space with the music blaring into my ears, I tend to sit and write until the damn thing is done. Not unusual for me to go five/six hours without stirring from my spot. :)

  2. I'm with cdnreader. My biggest habit is procrastination. But I am like you too. I'm a wanderer. I'll write a line or two, get up and wander around the house, watch a bit of TV, glance at a book, walk outside and stare at nothing, then come back and write another line or two. It's about the only way I can be a productive writer. And I haven't even really been THAT lately.

    I think it's my undiagnosed ADD. I absolutely HAVE to do more than one thing at a time or I can't concentrate. My mind just goes completely blank and I usually wind up with a headache. My hubby can't understand why I read with the TV on. I can't say why, I just NEED it on.

  3. hmmm...I actually don't think I'm overly finicky or habitual. MOSTLY I write in the morning, in silence, with copious amounts of coffee...maybe sometimes a cd if it helps set the mood for a seen (but only if) - but my overall writing goals are more important to me than my habits and so I will write at night, with S. watching a baseball game near me, or at a coffee shop, or whatever. i am such a natural creature of habit that I try to make sure each day is different in some way to keep me from getting too comfortable, LOL!

  4. Ha! You verbalize my writing habit as well. I tend to wander away after I scribble a couple lines. Sometimes I might call it a day, move on to other tasks, pick up a book to read, to take a walk and defer the writing to a later date. I guess you may call that procrastination too.

  5. I tried to write while intoxicated once. It wasn't nearly as good the next morning as I thought it was when I was writing it. Hmmmmm....

  6. I don't like noise either, but I am a pacer. At least I'm getting some exercise if nothing else;-)

  7. I do exactly what you do! And, yes, I used to be able to just sit and write or lie down and write or cower in the bathroom during a tornado and write (in the bathtub - always the bathtub), but now . . . silence, please. I'm up and down, even checking email.

    However, I've got a chair like the one in your photo - and it's super for reading. When hubby decided to put down new flooring, he buried that chair. We kind of miss it. But, I can't write in it, nope. No way. My computer chair is hard as a rock. I couldn't possibly sit in it for long, if I wanted to. And, I don't. :)

  8. Although I don't do any writing other than really my blog, I feel this way about anything creative I am working on. I can get easily distracted and so noise can be a real hinderance sometimes!

    I feel that way at work too. I have to really concentrate on my work when there is so to be distracted by (but that would be a whole post in itself - haha)


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