When I started writing many years ago (stuff for the local paper, then magazines), I wrote wherever I had enough space for the computer. In the first house we had, that was a sliver of a back porch which we converted to an office space for our construction company. I wrote with a four-year-old zooming in and around and an infant in a playpen. If there was a square inch of floor space, it probably had a book or a toy piled on it. I think the only free space was the tiny spot where my chair fit. I don’t think it was entirely a coincidence that I excelled at finishing short projects (news articles), but floundered at anything beyond a short story length.
The second house wasn’t much larger–just arranged slightly better so that more of the square footage was usable. In that house, there was a third bedroom. The boys liked bunking together (well, most of the time, except when they were trying to kill each other), so the third bedroom became the office. I thought at the time: wow, all of this room… I’ll never use all of this room. Yeah. I know. Delusional. The construction business grew, and its need for office space grew, and pretty soon, I was back to having a zillion filing cabinets and construction stuff cluttered around and the kids still zoomed in. I had a hard time focusing, though, because that room was pretty much in the center of the house. It was the front bedroom, and when you walked out of the kitchen into the hallway, you were facing that door, and everyone in the entire universe tramped through that kitchen. Yes, including you. It didn’t help to close the door because everyone then knocked and stood there. I started writing at night just to have enough consecutive uninterrupted minutes to be able to form a thought and then actually write it down. (I have always been a night owl–but when the kids were younger and I had to drive them to school at the buttcrack of dawn, I did not have the luxury of staying up late to take advantage of the quiet. I did it anyway, and functioned for years on three or four hours of sleep.) I managed to write slightly longer projects (screenplays), but anything longer than that was impossible for me to conceive. Not just produce, but actually conceive. I didn’t have the quiet, the head space, to work out the characters and dynamics of a longer story.
When we moved to the house we’re in now, the kids each had a room and we converted the front formal dining room into an office. We still have the construction company and still have tons of stuff for it, and for a long time, it was all still piled together. When the kids moved out, there was a spare bedroom and, joy of joys, my husband moved his office there and I had this entire office space to myself. My husband had built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for me, and I was in heaven.
Except, heaven had a glitch: the office was still at the front of the house, next to the kitchen. My husband’s new office was further away, which meant everyone in this universe and the next one over tramped through the house back to his office. Yes, even you, do not try to deny it, I saw you and the chocolate chip cookies you ate.
I had been loathe to trade offices with my husband, even though he’d offered to do so several times, because I love the size of this space and the beautiful shelves. I love the gorgeous French doors he hung for me, which was an attempt to dissuade people from walking through (doesn’t help, people come and stand at the door and watch me write) (I feel like a science project). I love the convenience (I can burn the bread really close by, which means I can put it out before the fire department gets here).
But I want the quiet.
I know a lot of people write at places like Starbucks or at a restaurant, and I shudder at the thought. I need the quiet space, the lack of movement around me. I am too easily distracted, and I enjoy talking to people, which means, I end up talking to people instead of writing. And, it occurs to me that a lot of people who go out of their home to write do so to have the stimulus of life and people around them. I have always had the universe tramping through my house, so I’m not really at a shortage for company.
So today, as you’re reading this, my husband and I are moving my office. He’s building a bigger place for himself outside. I am either packing up stuff, or purging it, or I’m at the hardware store, buying paint. This office is far away from everything else. I’m going to expend a little extra effort to make it feel like it’s mine, like it’s a sanctuary. It has a large walk-in closet, in which I’ll have plenty of storage, and a small kitchenette. My husband just built two large white-erase boards that I’ll use for brainstorming and keeping track of the big picture of the novels in progress.
Changing space is a little scary. After all, I had success here. I wrote the first two books mostly in this room, and like any superstitious writer, I don’t want to jinx a good thing. But on the flip side, I’ve always had good luck with change, and I know the new space will give me what I crave: quiet, room apart from the busy world.
What about your ideal space? Do you already have it? If so, tell me about it. If you’ve got a fantasy of what your perfect space would be, I’d love to hear it today. You may just be my inspiration as I’m changing spaces.