A Writing Space

I’ve just gone mobile.  I’ve exchanged my hefty desktop computer for a laptop.  Scarily, this little machine is apparently equal in power and capacity to the big box that I’ve been giving up precious desk-space to for about ten years now.  Technology, huh?

It’s taken me most of the weekend to swop my files and my mindset over, but now here I am, slumped on the cushions in the conservatory, typing on my lap.  It’s probably not going to be good for my posture, but it has novelty value.

I’m considering the impact of this change on some wise words from one of my literary heroes, Virginia Woolf…(excuse me while I take a reverential pause)…regarding the significance of a woman needing A Room of One’s Own if she wants to be a writer.

Yes, it was and is a feminist polemic, but wait, because I’m not about to get political.  I’m thinking about finding space and time to write, and that’s the same for men and women, isn’t it?

Where do we write?  How do we do it?  What do we need, and I mean really need, in order to write?

I have a room of my own. It’s a small converted shed, in the garden.  It’s almost filled by the three bookcases, my desk and chair, and in winter, that vital piece of equipment, the heater.  Additionally, since I’m a bit of a magpie, I’ve crammed it, with books, papers, pens, pictures and shiny objects.

My office 2012Before that, my computer was set-up in the spare room, which was fine until we had visitors.  Then I had to find a temporary corner, one that was not only out-of-the-way, but also had enough space to house my desk and chair.

So was it easier when I worked on paper?  In the portable sense, yes.  This laptop is a move back to that flexibility.  But even then, perhaps especially then, I fantasized about having a space just for writing.  I tried to create it, seeking out unused corners to lay out my materials.  It was hardest to do in the days before I admitted publicly that I was aiming to be a writer.

I tried to not be tied, to write as I’d been told Jane Austen did, discreetly in a notebook that could be easily tucked out of sight.  Perhaps, if you are remarkably organized this would work for you.

I’m not.  I create heaps of notes on scraps of paper that teeter on the corner of my desk.  I stack reference books on shelves as I work, and stuff my pockets with notebooks and scraps of inspiration.  In anyone else’s eyes, it would definitely count as a muddle.

What I think, as I sit here, enjoying the change of view and contemplating the option of typing in the garden, the kitchen, who knows, maybe even the bathroom, is that it feels free.  I think now that the nomadic shifts of my desk around the house were partly me creating a new writing environment.

It’s taken me a long time to get my personal writing place, and I’ve no intention of giving up my shed in the garden.  It feels like an extension of my imagination, and I love it.  But this laptop has reminded me that the room I really value is the space in my mind that allows me to do something so daft as to write my thoughts out and then show them to other people.



A trail of breadcrumbs

We’ve got family staying this Easter, which means making an effort.  Not just blitz the house of muddles and dirt, but find places to visit, things to do and see, locally.

Is it just us who don’t really know what’s on their doorstep?  We do have days out, but my attempts to be a good hostess reveal how restricted our household’s range of entertainments are.  We tend to chose places that need no more preparation that to change our clothes and set off.

That’s sheer laziness, and after they’ve spent three and a half hours getting here, we want our visitors to get the most from their stay.  The most what?  Well, fun, of course.

DSCF5233Doesn’t the same thing apply to reading?  How often when we’re writing do we just go with the first idea we have?  Of course, inspiration is great, and we all hope it continues to happen for us.  But I think inspiration is the starting point.  It’s a trigger to explore, to push myself to think beyond where I’m comfortable, even if that means spending some time considering alternative scenarios.

Because sometimes research brings unexpected rewards.  Some years ago we took our visitors to an adventure playground.  Everyone had an amazing time, so we began to plan all visits based on a day out at the giant swings and slides.  We came to know the routes and rides so well we didn’t need a map.

For the children, the adventure is all about anticipation.  Each ride is a precursor to the next excitement.

This year though, the adults said, ‘We’ve done that, can we do something else, please?’

So after a moment of blankness, when it felt as if we’d been given an impossible task: what could equal those giant activities? I began to see that we weren’t being asked for something along the same lines, this was a chance to think laterally.

Think about your audience then.  Put aside your natural modesty and let’s admit that we write not just for ourselves, but for other people too.  They probably are just like us, so perhaps it would help if rather than think about what we like to read, we think about what we don’t like in fiction.

For me, a predictable ending (baddy – antagonist – caught by goody – protagonist) is fine so long as the route by which they get there is not obvious.  On the other hand, I like to be kept guessing, but I don’t want to feel tricked.

For our visitors, the answer turned out to be the local sculpture trail in the forest.  Because even though we were following a map, with numbered artifacts to look out for, each turn of the track brought a new landscape.  Space to run, to ramble, amble and think, to look, explore and imagine, and nothing prepared us for our reactions when we entered a designed glade.






Quick notes – an acheivable exercise for the rushed.

Have you got five minutes, and a scrap of paper handy?

Anything will do, the back of an old envelope; the border of a newspaper; that blank page in your diary – you know, the one you leave all year because it’s bound to come in handy some time…well, now’s the day.

Why not start making notes for a Pillow Book?  It seems to me a perfect occupation for time spent waiting in queues.

Not sure what a Pillow Book is?  Well, the term is flexible.  In general, it seems to haveSei_Shonagon_artist_unknown 1700s been an early form of notebook.  But I’m aiming to be specific in my use of the term, and refer to the one kept by Sei Shonogan, a lady-in-waiting to the Japanese Empress Consort Teishi.  This was circa 1002 AD.

Sei Shonogan’s Pillow Book is predominantly made up of lists.  The topics and contents of these range widely, and include references to objects, people, events, her thoughts, observations, poetry and gossip.

Not sure?  Try this one:

Things that give a clean feeling

An earthen cup.  A new metal bowl.  A rush mat.  The play of the light on water as one pours it into a vessel.  A new wooden chest.

On one level it’s a simple collection of objects.

And yet, it’s much more, isn’t it?  I see a fragment of sensations from another society: another age, but some of them still echo in ours, don’t they?  I think there’s poetry in the way she groups the images, and I love the phrasing of the title.

Here’s another:

Things that are distant though near

Festivals celebrated near the palace.  Relations between brothers, sisters, and other members of a family who do not love each other.  The zigzag path leading up to the temple at Kurama.  The last day of the Twelfth month and the first day of the First.

So much of this is in what’s implied.  Is it just a list, or is it part of a picture?  I like the way this one ranges from the general to the particular.

Lists like this seem to me a style of writing that thrive on breaks for reflection.

The first challenge, is the title.  Will you make up one of your own, or borrow a ready made one?  What about, ‘Things that make your heart beat faster‘?

You could treat it like a brainstorm, and throw down images in a hurry.  But take a little time, and let some of them expand out, to include sentences, ‘On a night when you’re waiting for someone to come, there’s a sudden gust of rain and something rattles in the wind, making your heart beat faster.

After that, do you leave your items in their naturally occurring order, or do you rearrange them?  Perhaps you break the lines up…

It’s been a decadent afternoon…

…of gossip, chocolate and beverages, as a gift to myself for completing all my course paperwork and putting it in the post this morning.  Because sometimes, it’s good to let things slide.  Tomorrow, I’ve promised myself, I’ll settle into a new routine.

Since waving goodbye to my good friend, Claire, though, I’ve been thinking about that promise.  About plans that can work, and what makes a realistic goal, now that I’m facing a few weeks of being away from the discipline of writing groups.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself slipping into a mess of non-writing projects at this time of year.  One moment the garden was stagnating in sodden soil, the next it’s being over-run by a lush growth of nettles.  The lawn needs mowing and the spring-light is showing up untamed corners of housework that seemed acceptable in those short, dreary winter days.

Forget January the first, now is the time for my resolutions.  So I’m sharing my best intentions with you, fellow wordsmiths.  I want to create a private pact, with you as my witnesses that I will put aside just ten minutes a day for creative-writing.

I can almost hear you asking, ‘Only ten minutes?’

I know, it sounds feeble.  Thing is, I know it’s achievable, and that’s where I’m hoping to fool myself with this.  If I’m right, then it’ll work on the same principle as those five minute internet-searches I start my mornings with…

Who knows what I might achieve this way.  Fancy joining me anyone?

vogue illustration

Vogue illustration, Meadowbrook California Sport Hats for Town and Country, 1924