Sunday, January 11, 2015

Writing Home

I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing, part autobiography, part memoir, and in general, a manual for writers. The book confirmed many of the things I have learned over a long writing life, about form, description, character development and other essentials of creative writing. It’s good to have so much in common (in terms of understanding craft) with a successful and driven writer. I’m not a reader or fan of paranormal or horror stories, but writing is writing, and the skills and techniques are much the same across all genres of fiction. The rules apply to non-
fiction, too, because good writing is good writing.

One of the chapters in King’s book is about where he writes. From basement corners to what one imagines is a more conducive creative space, he describes the places he has adopted (and adapted) to his needs.

I suppose most of us who write have some idealized writing place or space we eventually hope to occupy: a study, an office, a small cabin in the woods. In fact, I think most of us write where ever we are, whenever we can. Still, there is that vision.

For me the place I’ve always thought of as my “writing home” would be a large room, illuminated by sunlight coming in tall windows, overlooking picturesque forests or fields or even colorful urban rooftops. The room is furnished with a huge table with lots of room to spread out copy, books, papers, pads and so on. I even picture myself steadily pounding away at a keyboard (the modern view, please: a computer). Sometimes I’m sitting with my back to the view, at others looking out over whatever there is to look out over, if you know what I mean. Nice, but not reality.

I’ve written on park benches (not very productive), in airplanes, sitting waiting in an office lobby, in libraries and kitchens and other unlikely places, few of which resemble my ideal space. In our house here on the side of a mountain, where the vistas can be long and wide or abrupt and short (depending on which side of the house one is on) I finally was able to design and build the perfect writing room, our private library: floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, dark wood ceiling and floor, dark wood walls where wall is visible, windows that give excellent views of the mountain behind the house and the fields below, an oriental carpet providing a soft, comfortable floor (I like to write barefoot). There is a rich, dark old library table, a perfect desk lamp, a comfortable leather swivel chair and in the summer a lazy ceiling fan to move the air – altogether perfect. Except that I don’t write there.

My writing room is small, narrow, perhaps cramped by some standards. The walls and ceiling and floor are light knotty pine. Much of the wall space is covered with shelves for the books I depend on for research, as well as other books I like to have around me. As in the library, there are also pictures and plaques marking my long life; things I know are here but seldom see anymore. I have built-in work surfaces on all four walls, and windows that give me a wide view of the fields, flashes of light where the sun strikes the river, and the rising mountain beyond that. And I face a wall barely two feet away when I write. It is messy because I’ve always kept a messy desk. If I need to spread out, that’s a motivator for putting things away, cleaning up my space, discarding the bits and pieces that seem to accumulate on any flat surface before me. This is where the writer in me lives. It must be what I need to be able to castoff the real world and live in the world I can create, otherwise I’d use that perfect space we created in our library so long ago.

It isn’t where you write that matters. It’s what you write that counts. My writing home is far from the vision I have.

But what the heck, it’s home.

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