I have a home office. Like the rest of my house, it’s decorated in contemporary clutter. Looking in from the door, you’d see a direct path to my chair lined on either side by stuff. My computer sits on a roll top desk among the ever-changing collection of coupons, bills, scraps of paper with scribbled story ideas, notes from freelance assignments, several pens, the latest issue of Poets & Writers, a wadded up napkin and dust. On the floor are books (predictable!), stacks of writing magazines (no surprise there), cadio workout DVDs (unopened, naturally), a tissue box (it’s allergy season), folders containing sheet music (I’m a reluctant soprano working my way to tenor as I age), a hula hoop (seriously, don’t ask), my dog and a cat or two (usually demanding attention and food just when I’m on a roll). I spared you the deflated balance ball, bag of art supplies and paper bags of documents awaiting their fate at the shredder. Not to mention the…Okay, you get the message, or just the mess!
This is the environment I work in. Chaos. Sometimes it gets overwhelming and I go on a cleaning spree. Call it temporary insanity. I grab a leaf-and-lawn size trash bag and indiscriminately toss in everything within reach. The cats scatter! The dog, smug, knows I can’t lift 60 pounds of squirming canine. After the purge, say a day later, I’m usually looking for some “important” note or other, now at the bottom of the garbage can ready to go to the dump. So when I write, generally, I keep these essential scraps gathered about me like a security blanket.
In Linda’s post, she asked readers to share the most bizarre place where they’ve written and it got me thinking of writing places other than my usual “set up.” Here are a couple.
I’ve written while mucking my horse’s stall. Between pitchforks of…well, you know, I’d run to the feed room and write until my brain went blank then back to the muck then back to the feed room, and so on. It took forever to clean the barn, but I’ve moved one story forward, solved a problem with another, reworked dialogue, written a flash piece or two in this manner.
In improv we do an exercise called “What are you doing?” The actor mimes an activity, such as brushing your teeth, but has to say something completely different, such as “playing golf.” I believe the theory is that by doing one thing and calling it something else, you free up the creative side of your brain. I’m no scientist, so don’t quote me on that. All I know is when I’m mucking my stall my mind wanders to all sorts of places and sometimes the results are stories. In fact, I started this post at the barn while watering. The opening paragraphs are made up of exactly six 5-gallon water buckets and one trip to the muck pile worth of words.
It’s pretty common to see writers tapping away at their keyboards in coffee shops, sipping lattes and nibbling on scones. I’m one of them. When my car is due for an oil change, I lug my ancient laptop to the only café within walking distance of the Ford dealership in town. So every 3,000 miles I enjoy an hour or so of dedicated writing time. The coffee shop is a story unto itself. Enter and you’re transported back to the 1960s. Posters and photos of folk singers hang on the walls along with paintings by local artists. Wobbly tables. Rickety chairs. Exposed brick. An upright piano and rock on the radio.
When I was a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York, I used to write and sketch concepts for ads while riding the subway. I used to say: whoever hired me would have to give me an office on the N train. I was truly worried I wouldn’t be able to create without the screech of metal on rails, the rock and swerve of the car and the voice of the conductor cracking sporadic over the loud speaker. Of course, that wasn’t true. We can set up shop anywhere we have a thought, pen, paper, napkin or laptop.
So create your space and conjure up some words. While writing this post, I cleared a few items from my desk. I know I’m going to need those empty Ziploc® baggies later. I just know it.