It’s true. I wrote my first book in a closet. It wasn’t a walk-in closet, it was a regular 70’s-style closet with sliding panel doors that ran along one wall in our bedroom. I cleared the floor space, inserted a small desk, jigged the wiring, hooked up the computer, and voila! Doors closed with stool pushed under the desk = closet. Doors open with stool pulled out and clothes pushed to the side = writing room. It was the only space in our small townhouse that I could find to call my own. And it worked.
But that was two houses ago. From there, we moved to a house that had been built in the 40’s (ish) and the closets were about as big as breadboxes. There wasn’t an extra room as the kids were too old to share now, so I had no choice but to become a dining table writer. Gone were the days of a wonderful space I could call my own. Gone were the inspiring quotes papering the closet wall that came into view once I slid the door open and pushed the clothes aside. Gone were the hidden stool, small Ikea desk, and stone-aged desktop computer. Gone. I was sad about it. And I started dreaming about having an office one day. A real office. Oh, if only I had an office … then I could really write. But in the meantime I’d have to make do, so I graduated to a laptop which allowed me to be more mobile, and I made it work. (Let’s just say when you’ve got only one table to work on and there are five people who need to eat around it everyday at dinner time, well, you’ve just got to be creative.)
But that was one house ago. The house we live in now has even less closet space than the previous one. (This house was built in the 1900’s) But do you know what? I don’t actually need closet space or a dining table to write on anymore. The dreams I had in our old house have come true: I actually have an office! A real live office, with a window and everything!
The problem is that I’ve never used it.
See, when we first moved here, we had to do major renos to make the house work for the five of us (three being teenagers now) because it had been divided into two apartments. So, for the first four and a half months, we all lived in such cramped quarters on the top floors while the main level was being torn apart that my writing space became my bed. The dining table just wasn’t even an option anymore because the small second-floor kitchen we were using was already acting as our eating area/living area/husband’s office. (And before you ask, yes, I’ve tried writing in coffee shops. I’ve tried writing in libraries. I’ve tried writing at the park. But I’m far too easily distracted to get much of anything done in those places.)
So even though the main floor’s pretty much done now and we’re not all squished together in such a tight living space anymore, I just can’t seem to transition. I can’t quit migrating to my bed when I want to write. Here I am, sitting on my bed propped up on pillows, as I write this post and there’s an open space just outside my door – a whole room! – that’s waiting to be used.
Maybe it’s kind of like what Stephen King said in ON WRITING, you know, when he talked about how he got himself this monstrosity of a writing desk early on in his career, once he decided he was a serious writer, and put it in the centre of the room because he figured that life should now revolve around his writing: That serious writers should define themselves as such by the level of importance they put on their work space. But it didn’t take him long to slide off his pedestal and haul his desk to the corner of the room under the window as he realized that life doesn’t revolve around writing; writing is a part of life and flows from life and should fit into the everyday rhythms of life. (Well, you may have interpreted that chapter differently, but that’s how I interpreted it. And it works for me :))
Maybe that’s why so many writers enjoy writing at coffee shops and libraries and parks – not necessarily because they don’t have an office or can’t find a table to work on at home, but because they prefer to be right in the middle of the everyday rhythms of life. And I can totally see how that could be inspiring. Uh, if I could focus while being there, that is.
I’m not saying writers shouldn’t have offices, that’s just silly. And I’m not saying I’ll never use my office space. What I am saying is that if you’re a closet writer or bed writer or dining table writer or hot tub writer (hey, you never know!) and you dream of having your “own” space – a real space – can I encourage you to love the space you’re in? The space you’ve got? The space that’s right in the middle of your everyday rhythms of life? After all, it really is your space. Think about it: think of all the things you’ve written in your space, all the ideas that have come to you in your space, all the dreams you’ve dreamt in your space, all the eureka moments that have dawned on you in your space. It may not be an ideal space, and you may not write in that space forever, but chances are you’ve done some of your best writing to date in that space. What’s not to love about that?
You know, my closet worked for me (Smudge’s Mark). The dining table has served me well (Gil’s Tattoo). And I’m loving the comfort of my bed right now (revisions and secret new project).
Call it a wasted dream, but I don’t see why I should change my space just because I can now.