We were asked to think about our writing practice in class the other day; what materials we use, what space we inhabit, and to think, too, about how to best use the spaces that are our most productive. I am used to obsessing about time but haven’t given much thought to space, until now.
Using this laptop on this table is sometimes productive. I am in our dining area, which rubs up against both our living area and our kitchen area. If no one is in either of those areas shouldered against mine, I can write quite well. The hum and thrash of the dishwasher in the kitchen is a nice, white noise. The clutter around me — the bulletin board covered in layers of KidArt, Kitchen Island and its permanent inhabitants, Pen Caddies One and Two, Catch-All Basket, Fruit Bowl, Giftcard Tin, Tissue Box — doesn’t affect me or stop me writing. I can create in disorder, even chaos, but not if there are other people around who might need something from me. Those people are all upstairs right now, getting ready for bed, so I can be here, doing this.
My other space for writing is my bedroom, where I excavated a corner a few years ago, and put my desk and chair. This year when I learned I’d be doing the writer’s studio, I cleaned up the desk and sorted out my drawers and got a sweet little lamp with a metal pull-chain to turn it on and off. That space is one of the best spaces for going deep and getting dirty. It’s very quiet upstairs, even though there is no door to our bedroom. The sound stops at the second floor, somehow. Physics, probably.
I write upstairs in the mornings, because it’s close to my bed, and because the quiet and privacy suits the stream of semi-consciousness that comes out at 5:30 am. When I get going it’s hard to stop, but the shower and my breakfast and the bus and work wait for me, so I have to stop.
I realized when I stopped to think about it that I rarely take the laptop upstairs to write. I prefer paper up there, maybe because I know there’s no one to look over my shoulder while I scribble. Privacy is not a real concern, as my family respects mine, generally. The kids are more interested in what I’m doing on the screen than what I’m writing on a page. The screen is all.
The problem of the laptop is not its surroundings or even its content and distractions. Those can be turned off. It’s that it’s too easy, on this machine, to type words that are pretty and admire them for that, without them having to do anything. On paper, the words are only as pretty as my handwriting. (My handwriting is not pretty.) They have to add up to something. On the screen, they can be moved around and manipulated, but pen on paper is etched. It’s in there, even when you scribble it out.
Handwritten words work harder. Point.
I have never written a blog post by hand. Counterpoint.
I write by hand on the Skytrain, too, most mornings when I get a spot to lean on so I can use my hands. Some mornings I don’t get that spot and I stand and look out the window. Some (rare) mornings I get to sit down and then I usually close my eyes and sleep/meditate. Sleepitate.
I could try writing on my phone on the Skytrain, or taking the laptop upstairs or spreading out papers and notebooks on this table. Thinking about doing those things makes me uneasy, like watching people drive on the wrong side of the road. Possibly this means I am too comfortable in my spaces and I need to shake things up.
Gonna keep sipping my ginger beer and ponder that one.
I’m the same on all fronts. I can write in mess and even noise, but not when there are people around – even my husband – who might interrupt me at any moment. I get edgy, waiting for the ask, and then I can’t create. I also find that the work I do on paper somehow turns out stronger than the work done directly into the laptop – blog post pour out okay, but fiction requires a pen. Maybe it’s the same for all writers.