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Writing in Space

Why I gave up the search for the perfect writing space and learned to write anywhere.

I recently engaged in a conversation with an old friend about “where” I write. She was describing her ideal writing nook: surrounded by worn hardbacks, a view of the sea, a soft breeze entering from a rounded side window, the smell of fresh coffee wafting in the air…

Not only did it sound ideal, but it sounded so perfectly ideal that it reminded me of all the things I’ve put in my own way over the years to keep myself from the (scary, difficult) task of doing what I want to do: write.

If what it’ll take for her to write is a nook pulled from the pages of Better Homes and Gardens, she’s giving herself a perfect recipe to…never write! (Nothing a procrastinator loves more than an impossible prerequisite quest.)

For me, one of the biggest accomplishments of my creative life in the last few years has been letting go of the“must haves” and “nice haves” that I once used to keep myself stuck.

No more searching for the perfect pen, the ideal notebook, the best time of day, the top-of-the-line laptop. And no more waiting for the perfect place to write.

How did I get here?
At 38, I’ve lived in a dozen countries, as many states, and a litany of houses, homes, apartments too numerous to list out here.

I’ve written in great spaces, hopeful spaces, communal spaces, and horrible spaces. I’ve rarely had a designated room all for writing, but even when I have, it’s rarely been more effective than not.

I’ve written at Denny’s, in bed, at the kitchen table, and at dozens of libraries. I’ve failed to write in all those spaces, and more. I know the dance of email distraction, day job intrusion, interior emotional confusion, and interpersonal interruption.

Currently, I do not have a space dedicated to writing. In fact, I don’t have a space dedicated to living.

I am between homes; having moved out of a friends’ house where I wrote on a bed from 10 to 11 PM, before stretching, and then heading to sleep. I am now at my sister’s house, where I am (literally, right now) writing this on a pull-out couch in the basement.

Ideally, I would love a small, quiet space to call my own, dedicated to my own writing and creative needs. (And I wouldn’t sneeze at a sea breeze and a few well-worn hardcover-filled shelves along the walls…)

But let’s be real: I’ve had nearly that and not written. So instead, I’ve spent the last year building a space in my mind for writing.

How did I do that? By practicing the very thing that the search for the perfect writing nook (or pen, or notebook, or topic) helps us avoid: writing anyway. I wrote every day every day for months, rain or shine, whether I wanted to or not — two pages a day. In doing so, I build momentum, and I learned to hold space within the project I’m working on. That’s where I go to write. Every day. With or without the smell of fresh coffee.

The exciting thing is that now — wherever I am — as long as I have an hour, I can and will write.

Yes, there are always emails to get to, and “real work” to do, and journal entries that would be easier to scribble, and Netflix shows to watch, and the delicious taste of sleep I’d rather devour. And there’s always always that nag of resistance, the voice saying “ugh, do we really have to?”

All I can do is close the door, dim the lights, tell my family “I’m going to do my writing now; we’ll talk in an hour” and enter the only space I have truly reserved for writing: my headspace.

So far it’s working better than any physical space ever did. Though I do look forward to having a physical space for myself, and my work, sometime soon. I just don’t care if it has a sea breeze and a view of the Back Bay, or a bus station breeze and a view of the Best Buy parking lot.

Wherever it is, wherever I am, I’ll write.