Today we talk about the place where writers write, and pause to reflect: Do you have a place for writing? T.C. Porter Asks
My office floor is littered with kelp and blades of grass, carried here by the sea falling outward in low tide. The rising sun is behind me, shielded by an umbrella affixed to my beach chair. This is my cubicle. Several times this morning, I will move it westward in keeping with that perfect strand of beach at the cusp of the Pacific Ocean. Here I enjoy an ancient sacrament, the worshipful reverence of humanity saluting the sea. Fisherman wade knee deep in the waters, surfers ride the waves, runners meander through the piles of kelp. One city parks employee plows the sand to prepare for the onslaught of thousands of beach comers as another cleans the bathroom, which is an impossibly gross display of the weekend. Commercial airliners head west before looping back into the continent to drop off passengers to all those inland locales that cannot enjoy a writing office like this.
I suppose if I still lived in my hometown of Edwardsville, Illinois, I would write beneath a canopy of trees among cornfields, along a stream feeding into the Mississippi River; perhaps frequent the nearby Watershed Nature Center or Heartland Prairie. In my college town, Columbia, Missouri, I would put the karst to good use and nestle beside one of the sink holes or caverns reaching deep into the heart of the soil. The writer of fiction can get by about anywhere, and maybe this is what makes a person a writer of fiction: It’s not about the sand on my feet but the universe within, the dreamscape waiting to be born with each word.
But then what is the significance of a writer’s location?
If creating literature is in fact like giving birth we might say the baby will be born in spite of her mother’s place. But any man who has shared labor with his wife knows: location is important. It all matters: the lighting, sounds, personnel, furniture, fragrance, physical position.
Writing is, of course, not entirely giving birth. As analogies go, why not liken it to sex. Entire industries are born of creating the right setting, if not entirely being the setting. Indeed, it might be said that the beach is the lover of writers. I do not think it is coincidental that my work today is exceedingly more vibrant than the writing I was doing two years ago when my office was Starbucks.
We know that writing is all about words and books and craft: character, setting, plot, dialogue, theme, point of view. Writing is about brains, smarts, spirits, creativity, vision. That is all true, in theory; and practically speaking, we soon see that the way we arrange things bears greatly on our output as writers. With so much at stake – much to write, not enough time, and the world of writing so competitive – we must have our writing lives in order. Basic decisions mean everything: Where do I write? When?
For me the beach is not enough. I need a good quiet place with power and bathrooms – maybe some air conditioning and a refrigerator – to go and be quiet, revise, edit, write, think. That is why I spend Tuesday morning at the Ink Spot, home of San Diego Writers, Ink. Room to Write, from 8 am until noon, is just that quiet place. And still, I found, that isn’t enough. During a plateau in my novel writing, quite by accident, I discovered the wonders of writing prompt groups. If you have experienced any sports or athletics, you know the importance of training with others who push you to run further and faster than you would on your own. A writing prompt group, such as Brownbag Lunch (Tuesday at noon) or Wake Up and Write (Wednesday 7 am), is much the same. We read a line of poetry or a sentence designed specifically to prompt writers – such as, “Write about a morning at the beach” – we write for a stated interval, then we read out loud. In a few hours of promptings each week, I write about 2000 words, exceedingly more than without the prompts. It gives me plenty to read, edit, revise and add to during my jaunts to the beach.
Thanks for reading.
How about you? Is your writing life ordered in such a way that maximizes your potential? Do you have a good place or places to go and write, read, edit and revise your material? What could you do at this time to make improvements in this regard?
T.C. Porter hosts SDWI’s Tuesday morning Room To Write. His flash fiction appears in the September edition of The Speculative Edge, a science fiction journal. He is writing his first novel.