Writing Spaces: A Scenario

Writing Retreat - Pyragraph
Photo by Paul Mayer.

Gertrude Stein did it in her Model T Ford while her partner, Alice, drove the car. Virginia Woolf did it standing up. Saul Bellow stood up as well. Whereas, James Joyce preferred to lie on his stomach in bed.

Nude and cold, Benjamin Franklin did it in a dry bathtub. Agatha Christie, in a bathtub filled with warm water. Rita Dove, by candlelight in a cabin. And Annie Dillard, in a tent pitched in her yard on Cape Cod.

E.B. White did it in a boathouse on a saltwater farm in Maine.

For some, it’s a desk at a window in town. A view with a cast of characters going by, a parade of bicycles, buses, strollers and cars. The colors and sounds of life, and lights that come on when the sun goes down.

Step one. Visualize your perfect writing space.

Where would it be, and what would it look like? What would draw you to write more, if you only had that place?

For me, it was always the proverbial hut in the woods. I talked about it for years. I just needed some acreage. I think I only saw trees. I also imagined it Spartan inside: a desk, a chair, and a cot or daybed—for napping.

Step two. Throw all that out!

By the time I found my hut in the woods, it was by the sea. Even nicer. Also, all sorts of furniture that didn’t fit in the house had to be accommodated in the writing hut. Gone was the bed idea, and now I can’t nap. There’s a settee in its place, too short to stretch out on. A gilded, marble-topped Italian coffee table and a pair of French chairs. It’s looking like more of a salon than hermitage in my hut. More Edith Wharton than Thoreau.

Life throws us curves, but it’s all good, for it’s all material. In my case, the furniture pieces came with a history. They have stories to tell and all I have to do is listen.

Step three. Write where you are. The writing space as writing prompt.

The settee had been purchased to “stage” a living room after moving the sofa out. The room looked larger with a settee and the house sold. I had loved that house, and had the pair of French chairs reupholstered in pink and green checks because it was springtime when we moved in, and I was so taken by the light green leaves in the trees I vowed not to do window treatments. And I never did.

The painted green dresser, a consignment shop find in Laguna Beach 20 years ago. I liked the distressed painting job, while my husband found hidden value in the mahogany wood beneath. “One day we’ll refinish it,” I assured him. So far we haven’t.

The iron Baker’s Rack once rescued the storage situation in a kitchen too small. Holding a Cuisinart, a mixer, oversized pots, salad bowls, Pellegrino bottles by the case, linens folded in baskets, bags of potatoes and onions, it gave a bit of restaurant vibe to a small and ordinary kitchen. Here it stands overburdened with books, stacked on their sides.

My writing table is the antique pine table we came upon in Tucson. Here we dined, did homework and craft projects for years. In the hut today the table sits in a long window and looks to the bay. Riddled with wormholes, at certain slants of light I detect glitter from homemade Valentines and the milky white glue of science projects. On the table I have framed a collage of small square black and white photographs taken at Bantam Lake, Connecticut, when I was a child: sitting with a pretty aunt upon a Sailfish, wading with my grandmother who always wore rubber shoes into the water, and learning to swim with my father.

At times the resemblance between that lake and this bay is uncanny. Where the woods meet the water, and sand feels more like mud. Where ducks paddle by, and at times I can hear water lapping on rocks. Then and now, there and here, my beginnings and the present fold into one.

E.B. White did it in a boathouse on a saltwater farm in Maine. I do it by the bay, in a writing hut furnished with memories.
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