S.S. Writing Space

Bedroom in Arles - Pyragraph
Second version of Bedroom in Arles, Vincent van Gogh, September 1889.

The essential question is, ‘Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write?’ Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words your characters will speak, ideas—inspiration. —Doris Lessing

It was a day in the summer of 1999. Nearly 20 years ago, and yet I can close my eyes today and recall the colors, the light, certain textures, and how it made me feel. A day that will be forever bookmarked in my life.

I had stepped off a small ship touring the Mediterranean with only one day allotted for Santorini. Instantly it hit me: The paint box blue of shutters and doors against white, white walls. The texture of stucco and crunch of stones underfoot. Cerulean blue of the sky. The sparkling clean city on the hill, and how good everyone looked in that light.

We keep living until we get it right.

And we keep writing until we get it right

This is where I walked all day as in a maze, turning down alleyways, looking for a “Room to Rent” sign. I just knew it, I belonged there. And I knew how simple my needs would be in Santorini. A room, a table and chair, and a bed. A couple white caftans to wear and a pair of leather sandals.

At the time I did black and white photography, hand-painting them, tinting with oils. It was pleasant work that—all this was going through my mind at the time—I could easily do there. Today, of course, I would write.

Painting or writing, there is an inherent beauty in art in terms of how simple it can be. I keep returning to it: a chair, a table, paper and pen, or paints. Of course it gets more complicated than that: with writing, the laptop and printer, the books that stack up like a forest. But whether we write at a table or a room of our own, our best effort, it seems to me, is spent trying to hold everything else back. To keep things simple and spare—like that day on Santorini when it looked so clear to me, so perfectly possible to slip into that life.

Those hand-painted photographs of yesterday hang on the beaded board walls of my writing hut today. And that’s about it for decor. I learned something in my last writing room in the city. Don’t ask me how I got started, but religious memorabilia of all denominations became a theme, a passion, a collection. And when I wasn’t busy collecting, people were gifting to me: crucifixes, Milagros, Santos, Day of the Dead figures, a voodoo doll, a Hindu goddess, and a Buddha whose belly I rubbed before writing.

My daughter’s boyfriend at the time attended Birthright Israel, and carried home a pillar candle from The Holy Land for my writing room. My husband climbed The Himalayas and returned with a prayer flag which I strung across the room—and then took down. For I am old enough to remember when gas stations looked like that, back in the days when Exxon was called Esso.

In any case, there was more ritual than writing going on in that room.

In the end it was cathartic to take it all down, all the religious memorabilia, to fill the holes and paint the walls white in preparation for putting the house on the market. Like the beauty of a blank page, moving is always a new start, a second chance, and I love that about it. We keep living until we get it right.

And we keep writing until we get it right.


Make a list of what you must bring into your writing space.
Include: a table, a chair, paper and pen.
Silence and solitude, and not much else.


Note: I didn’t provide many lines, because that’s the point. It may have more to do with what we don’t bring into a writing space than what we do.

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One Comment

  1. Great Doris Lessing quote!

    I would also recommend two other things

    1/consider your writing space ever a work in progress

    2/if you occasionally want to write “away,” keep your portable office prepacked in a laptop bag in a way that covers all your needs (like a hospital bag for the day when the baby comes). A spare power supply, favorite pens, earbuds, water bottle etc. Then you can take your writing space on the go if the weather is nice or you need to be somewhere else where there is open time for writing.

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