Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.
For the first time in my life I have an office, a room of my own to write in. I finally have it arranged reasonably, too–an actual desk, shelves of reference books, the printer on its own table, supplies neatly shelved. Outside my window I can see the nest that may have held baby hawks this last summer; stripped of its greenery, the tree it was in is instead robing itself with moss. The cedars murmur and let loose a shower of silver raindrops when the wind rises. I’ve hung up the picture of the samurai and a print of one of the few Picassos I like. I have my canvas map of 1860s London next to me. The Bannon & Clare series bible is within easy reach, and everything is organized to a fare-thee-well.
I can hear the eyerolls from here. Go ahead, Lili. Tell us how you’re having trouble writing in this lovely nest you’ve created. Poor little you! Enjoy it! Stop whining!
It’s not that I’m having trouble, precisely. It’s that I’ve spent my life writing in the spaces-between, and having actual space now is somewhat…unsettling. It’s like having a variety of the bends. I’m used to contorting myself into the smallest possible ball and having to fight tooth and nail to concentrate long enough to get a chapter in. Working for so long in those pressure-cooker conditions, no wonder I’m feeling a bit bug-eyed now that the lid’s been popped and I’m where I set my sights on being.
I am not complaining, just to be crystal clear. I love this. I would not trade it for anything. I certainly don’t want to go back to that pressure cooker, no way, nohow. I endured being married to a man who didn’t want to work, with two small children to feed and oh my God what am I going to do? I would sooner dig my own eyes out with cafeteria sporks than go back, I worked like hell to get out.
It reminds me of the Tombs of Atuan. To be reborn, you must die. It’s not as hard as it looks from the other side. Change is scary, and change in an area that defines a lot of me–writing is not just something I DO, it is an integral piece of my identity–is exponentially more terrifying than just the garden variety hey, I gained a couple pounds or something.
The conditions under which a writer writes become their own set of necessities after a while. The engine that drives creation has varying levels of complexity (and no, that doesn’t excuse Speshul Snoflake-ism; there’s a whole blog post there but it will have to wait) but two constants, just like a car: it needs periodic maintenance, and it needs fuel. If it is broken in under certain conditions and those conditions change, its tune-ups and fuel probably need to change with it.
Which brings me to what I wanted to talk about. I rarely hear other writers talk about difficulty during a change in writing spaces or rituals, but I’m sure I can’t be the only one. (Or, you know, maybe I’m an alien freak, that’s not entirely out of the question.) The only cure I’ve found so far is sheer persistence and habit, the same as always–ass in chair, fingers on keyboard. The fact that the chair is now an office chair instead of a papasan and the keyboard is an actual keyboard instead of a laptop balanced on my knees doesn’t matter.
Or maybe it does. When you’re used to working furiously, shutting out all the noise around you, fighting hard to claim and catch your own little slice of the world, the sudden freedom and quiet is overwhelming. Maddening. All that pressure, all that focus, is a searchlight with a fiery glow–you don’t feel the heat unless you’re standing right in front of it, and then it’s unbearable. Finding just the right distance from the searchlight is trial and error, and it takes knowledge of one’s own working style and comfort levels.
I know I can write in bathrooms, stairwells, between the demands of people needing to be taken care of. What I’m less sure of is how to deal with it when I actually have space and the demand is that, just simply, I write. I’ve moved the office around a couple times, searching for the right configuration. There’s a proper desk–never written at an actual desk before, my previous writing table was a nightstand–and my back is not to the door. Everything I need is within easy reach, except the comfort of habit and familiarity.
A human being is a complex system, writing is a complex system, and when the two get together all sorts of weird and wonderful irrational things happen. Managing that weirdness ona day to day level is the only way to produce reliably. First it takes the willingness to do so, and the absolute refusal to quit despite discomfort. What I’m left wondering is, how difficult is the refusal to quit despite comfort itself? I’m reminded of Bukowski commenting that a man writes better on a full stomach than an empty one, and Julia Cameron’s insistence that the myth of the tortured artist is just that, a myth.
Before, I felt guilty because writing was stealing time and attention–my upbringing had raised me to insistently believe that my only value was how much I could take care of others and negate my own desires. Now I feel guilty because I have this wonderful office, this space all my own, and I have the gall to find things just as difficult. Only the scenery’s changed. The problems are still there, because they’re mine, I’ve paid for them, and isn’t that what Stephen King says? What you pay for, you own. It could be that this is just the same old seductive timesink of procrastination, that Lernaean Hydra of the creative life. The only cure is to go straight through, to get to work and stay there.
But I would be lying if I said it was easy. So much about writing is just stubbornly refusing to know when to quit.
What about you, fellow penmonkeys? Do you have trouble when your writing space changes? If you have, how did you find your way through it?