For some time I’ve wanted to respond to Bloglily‘s call to her readers to share their writing spots. I keep meaning to bring my camera, keep forgetting, so for now let’s do without pictures. You know, maybe it’s better this way, because I don’t think it’s the physical spot that matters so much as the symbolic dedication of time once I’m in it.
I write in two places, depending on if it’s a workday or a weekend. One is public; one is (semi)-private. Neither is at home. You might be surprised that, in the past months, I’ve gotten more done at my public writing spot, even though it’s louder and filled with distractions and I have only a short amount of time to be there. At home, I cannot write at all, probably because the apartment is so small and I don’t have a desk. Here are my spots:
1) My Weekend Writing Spot
I am here now. It is a members-only organization, for which I pay dues. There are a few of these in New York City (probably due to the shoeboxes we live in), and this one may be the oldest. In fact, I’ve been a member since 1999, when it was at another location. I’ve thought of switching, for a change—change can be good, no?—but, really, I am extremely attached. I have a favorite desk. It is against a wall far from the windows, forming a cozy little corner with some semblance of privacy. The chair is fire orange. The desk wide enough for a laptop and spreads of papers on each side—the perfect width. There is a shelf for a lamp, a partition to keep me from staring directly at the other writers, and into which I can pin pictures for inspiration if I want to. In truth, the desk is not private at all. This place can fill up, writers on top of writers on top of writers, to the point of a buzzing hum of industry, but I don’t mind it. I like the sense of productivity all around me. Another thing about this place is that “your” desk isn’t always your desk—you clean it off before you leave, so it’s important not to get too attached to a specific seating arrangement. I keep certain things in my locker, which I set up each time I am here: a box of pens, spoons, sticky notes, staples, chopsticks, whatever I might need; a box of tissues; a notebook; literary journals for a short-story break; a water bottle; a sweater; and my trusty pair of writing slippers.
There is the soothing effect of routine upon coming here: I walk the same series of blocks, sign in, arrange my desk with the items I like out on it, go get coffee, drink it in the communal kitchen while reading, and then I come to the desk itself, slip on the slippers, and begin. There is a quiet I appreciate, one that is peppered with horns honking down in the street below, and keys tapping, and people slurping coffee, and the whir of other nearby hard-drives. There is no talking in the main writing room, which is the best part of being here. I can be in my own world and no one can interrupt me. In the past, when I’ve bumped into people I know here, I’ve become somewhat distracted. I like to be left alone. As advertised, it is an urban writers’ retreat, which for me is not about making new friends or networking or chatting in the kitchen. Also, the addition of free wireless Internet access makes for some easy distraction, and this is something I have to become better about. However, when I’ve had a good day and emerge from this spot into the loud, crowded world below, usually after the sun has gone down, I feel a real sense of completion. Sometimes it takes the entire walk home for me to adjust back to reality. The place leaves with me a slow, solid silence that can last for some time; it is very soothing. I keep the key with me always. I love knowing that at any hour of the day I can go in.
2) My Weekday Writing Spot
I will be here early tomorrow morning. Due to the location of my full-time day job, it wouldn’t make sense for me to go to my real writing spot before work—it’s in the opposite direction, so I’d lose writing time to travel time, a sacrifice I’m not willing to make. I had to figure out a compromise. It was over a year ago that I thought to try Starbucks. Most of them just don’t work for me—the way the tables are situated, the acoustics, the crowd—but there’s one that’s just perfect. My favorite tables (I like to think of them as “desks”) are set against a wall of outlets, away from the line to the register. There is a group of writers and readers who come early mornings—we recognize one another, nod, and keep a respectful distance. The baristas know each of us by our drinks and often have them ready before we reach the head of the line. I try to get in as early as possible. This way, the walk there is quiet. The line is nonexistent. One of my favorite tables is free. I get my drink, put my back against the wall, plug in, and begin. The tables are small, so I have room only for my drink and my laptop, but this is only a problem when I’m referring to a previous draft for revision. (Then I use a chair as an extension to the table.) Because I have to leave at 9:50 LATEST to make it into work, I often find myself with a burst of motivated energy in the short while I’m there. By the time my drink is finished, it’s time to go. The time is precious—it feels stolen from the day—and I want to get out as much as I can from it. I don’t have free wireless access, so my concentration is better. And even when the place crowds up—one day a week there is a mommy’s group with babies in strollers; sometimes there are loud revelers from a drunken night before, often boys dressed as girls, though rarely girls dressed as boys; sometimes people have business meetings at the table just beside me—I am somehow able to write through all of it. There is a sense of urgency, a good solid kick-in-the-butt, and I like it.
If you were there in the Starbucks while I was in the midst of a good paragraph, you might find me staring. I mean nothing by it—I’m just gathering my thoughts. Sometimes I forget I’m out in public at all and type madly, with probably an intensely odd expression on my face. I have no idea what I look like when I’m writing.
Between these two places, I’m able to carve out a spot most days (unless I sleep late, which, I admit, does happen). But, if I could choose my fantasy writing spot, it would be a whole room to myself. No TV set of course, not even a couch (to discourage napping). It would be a small room, the walls perhaps a soothing cobalt blue, and maybe there would be a window out of which I’d have a view of a city street far below, the kind where you look down and the people are like ants under glass, and you’re invisible to them, so they have no idea you’re looking. The yellow cabs will be like little toy cars. And at night the windows across the way will be squares of light, and the sky visible up above, maybe a few stars twinkling. One day, maybe, I’ll have that room. In the meantime, I make do.