Friday, September 17, 2010

How to Arrange Your Writing Room - McLachlan

If you have trouble with insomnia, the experts say, dedicate a place to
sleeping. Don't have a sitting area in your bedroom, or a breakfast nook
or a telephone or a television. Teach your body to know that this is a
place to sleep.

I have never had trouble sleeping. I don't really understand people who
lie awake night after night, or wake too early and can't go back to sleep.
I can always go back to sleep.

But I imagine insomnia is something like the way I feel when I find myself
sitting frozen in front of my laptop waiting for a drift of words that
maddeningly eludes me.

I am not drawn to writing. I come to it as reluctantly as every sane
person approaches hard work. But I imagine a lack of sleep is much like
the way I feel when I haven't written for a week or so; grouchy and weary,
dissatisfied with myself and irritated with everyone else and thoroughly
annoyed by all the activities and excuses preventing me from what I am
naturally disinclined to do: which is to write.

Eventually, however much I resist it, I need to write. So I have prepared
my writing room as carefully as those experts advise insomniacs to prepare
to sleep. First, it must be inviting, so much so that I will be enticed to
enter despite myself. Not inviting the way a kitchen is, full of the
aromas of my favorite foods and cheery family gatherings. Not inviting the
way the computer room is, with the internet and the telephone promising
cozy conversations and messages from my friends and daughters who have
left home but are only a short chat away. Not inviting the way a living
room is, providing entertainment and relaxation at the end of a long day,
or a place to socialize and celebrate with others. No, as the experts
advised, my body must know that this is a place to write. So my writing
room must be inviting in the way only a small room with no food, no means
of communication with the outside world and no distracting entertainment
or social opportunities can be.

I write at my father's desk. He died when I was quite young, but my mother
often quoted him as saying, "if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing
well." This quote was usually brought out when I was not doing enough
school work to keep my grades up. It seems appropriate that I write at his
desk; my body expects it.

At first, I put the desk facing the window. My writing room is the
sunniest room in the house, which certainly entices me, but the window
proved too distracting. I tended to look out. I had to turn my desk toward
the wall beside the window. This is a place to write, not to look out.
Sitting thus, the entire wall behind me is a floor-to-ceiling bookcase.
Books crowd the shelves, and lie behind or on top of the shelved books and
in piles on the floor in front of the bookcases and occupy every chair and
surround my desk. They watch me write. I try to imagine them cheering me
on, but I think they are really looking over my shoulder and sniffing
disdainfully when I hesitate or reach for my thesaurus. Two of the books
are mine. They are very quiet about that and try to hide their
embarrassing parentage from Dickens and Wordsworth and Hemmingway and
Dostoevsky and most of all from the CanLits.

I advise every writer to create a writing room. At the very least, it will
help with your insomnia.

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Jane Ann,
Thank you for this very interesting article.
Many -- perhaps the majority -- of those of us who write, do so from our computers, in potential, even frequent, distraction from emails and telephone calls.

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