Episode 14: Adding Spaces
In the fifth episode of the “honoring your creative space” series, we examine what other creative spaces you want to nurture, in addition to your primary one. It is vital that you have a primary space where you go every day to create. But it also valuable to find additional spaces, especially public ones like cafes, that afford a change of pace and that force you to wear your artist being publicly. Why is this so important? Tune in and fine out.
Today’s show is the fifth episode in a series called “Honoring Your Creative Space.” In this series I’ll be chatting about what you need to do in order to find, protect, and honor sufficient space in which to create. For convenience I’ll address you as a writer, but the same ideas apply whether you are creating novels, paintings, songs, or theorems. Today’s show, from an essay in my forthcoming book A Writer’s Space, is called “Adding Spaces.” Let’s begin!
Sometimes you want to be silent in your room with your door closed. Sometimes you want to be silent among people as you sit in a café. Sometimes you want an ascetic, crystalline experience with snow in the air and a view of a Norwegian fjord (or at least a view of a poster of a fjord). Sometimes you want a humid, intense experience, with thousands of people passing below your window day and night (or its rough equivalent, a sidewalk table on a hot summer night). You have your laptop computer: the whole world is your office, if you will let it be.
There are so many splendid places where you might find yourself writing! You might find yourself in your own garden. You might find yourself in a bookstore café, on a bench by the lake, or in the newly refurbished library around the corner. You might find yourself moving with the laptop around your house, now upstairs, now downstairs, now out on the front steps to catch a few rays of sunshine. You might find yourself in an Italian bakery, a Swedish sandwich shop, a Russian deli. Your mind was always portable; so was your pad and pen; and now your computer is also. What fun!
It is a bad trick of the mind to announce to yourself that you can only write in a certain place, in certain circumstances, in a certain kind of weather, at a certain time of the day, after having a certain kind of meal, with a certain sort of pen. It is fine to have preferences but important to commit to writing anywhere. That way you can grab ideas when you’re away from home; you can take a little writing trip when you feel dull at your desk; you can choose among your excellent haunts and decide which feels most congenial at the moment. By all means maintain a primary writing place; then add alternates.
When I go out to write, I go to a particular café a short walk away. I could go to other cafés, but this one is congenial. I usually stay for no more than an hour, as after an hour I crave a second pastry. If I want to stay out a bit longer and the weather is decent, I sit on one of the benches along our main street: there is a bench in front of the supermarket, a bench in front of the community center, a bench in front of the video store, and a bench in front of a hair salon. I choose my writing bench according to how much sun it is getting: the bench in front of the supermarket rarely gets the sun and rarely gets my business.
I wish I could sit on a bench in the children’s playground behind the library, but, for safety reasons, adults aren’t allowed unless accompanied by children. I wish I could sit in the wine bar but it is a little too small and intimate, a little too hard not to chat with the proprietress, who has good stories about her time in Rome. I wish I could sit in the deli, but sandwiches are my downfall and the lamb-in-pita cries out to me with a plaintive wail. I wish I could sit in the library, but it reminds me of the prison of elementary school. But I am blessed with enough writing haunts and I do not mourn these losses.
And if I wanted to hop in the car, how many splendid places I could add! There are a dozen congenial cafes along just one stretch of Valencia Street, a neighborhood thoroughfare not five minutes’ drive from here. I could go to museums and sit in their cafes; I could sit on college campuses; I could mingle with tourists; I could spend the day out on the town with my laptop. I can hear the zipper now as I undo its Chinese red carrying case and pull the laptop out. Maybe I am having an Irish coffee; maybe I am sitting on a bench atop Bernal Hill, with its stunning views of San Francisco; wherever I find myself, that is a writing space.
Go on a vision quest this week and find some congenial spots to write. Bring your laptop or your pad and make sure that the spots really work. Set yourself a special writing goal for the week and meet it in a variety of writing haunts, proving to yourself that it is possible to write unselfconsciously in the world. Make a list of your new writing haunts and maybe even a map, something like a treasure map. A writer’s space is wherever she lands; her treasure is the writing she gets done in these myriad spots.
Be open and inventive. Use your dining room table to spread out the table of contents of your novel, one chapter title per index card, so that you can rearrange chapters effortlessly. Use your neighborhood Starbucks as the place you go when you want to create the marketing plan for your new book, a task of so little interest that you need a place built for breaks. Use the waiting room of your dentist’s office to make notes for an article, the side of the road to jot down the last line of your poem that just came to you. Stand ready!
How many haunts do you need? Maybe only that primary one: that sofa by the window bathed in light and silence, that desk in the study, that kitchen table with its bowls of nuts and candies. But you’ll probably want an alternate space, too, a space that serves as a treat, a destination, and that helps break up your routine. By actually using your alternate space you remind yourself that you can—and should—write anywhere.
Four things to remember:
1. Make sure that you’ve secured a primary writing space, one where you do most of your writing.
2. Scout out a congenial alternate writing space.
3. Add on additional spaces—a café, a park bench, a second room in your home.
4. Write everywhere.
That concludes today’s show. I hope you’ll come back next week for another episode in the series. To subscribe to “the joy of living creatively,” please visit personallifemedia.com, where you’ll also find my blog. You can drop me an email at [email protected]; and I hope that you’ll visit my website to learn more about my books and services. That’s ericmaisel.com—(spelled out).
Thank you for listening!