Monday, July 26, 2010

From where you write

The title, btw, is a play on Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream, a slightly pretentious guide to writing that, in spite of its pretentiousness, possesses the ability to stretch the way you think about your process of writing.

I've made a significant change to my writing space and, hopefully, to my productivity as well.

When I set up my desk, I purposefully placed it so that it faced out a window.  Multiple different set ups in many different rooms over the years had proved to me that I am happiest when closest to a source of daylight and when I can let my eyes focus on something far away instead of a big ol wall 18-24" from my nose.  Thus, the original set up.

If you'll notice, out that window is another apartment building.  Between it and my window is a street with some parking (you can't see it from this angle, but trust me, it's there).  It is from this perch that I watch the bizarre and stupid antics of my neighbors.  They are often entertaining, and just as often scary and repulsive (see Tales of Woe).  And, while stories of grown men running from invisible bees are fun to blog about, they are very, very distracting when trying to get thedamnwriting done.

In my final private meeting at Odyssey, it was suggested to me that, perhaps, in front of a window was not the best place to do my writing.

I balked, then panicked.

Take away the light? No!  The ability to focus off in the distance? No! Don't wanna. Can't make me. Gonna throw a fit!

Then two weeks later, returning to my apartment, I thought, what the hell? Why not have it both ways?

I went out and purchased a pressure rod and hung a half curtain in the window.  At first I had delusions of grandeur about sewing a curtain -- I have fabric and a sewing machine, and a curtain requires skills only one step above zero -- but then I got lazy (a.k.a. practical) and realized that I could have a curtain immediately without unearthing the sewing machine in an already messy apartment (thank you unpacking for making that mess) if I just draped a pretty sarong over the pressure rod.

Blocking out 18" of window and neighbors has drastically changed my writing space.

Even just taking the before and after pictures was crazy-different.  Previously my camera wanted to auto-focus outside, no flash, causing everything to be backlit.  Now it wants to focus on the desk space, and use a flash.  Yes, there's (slightly) less light to work by, but like my camera, my focus has changed.

The difference when I sat down at the computer was immediately noticeable.   Things felt more grounded.  It mentally puts me in a workspace that's all my own.  In fact, when the window is open and I can hear people talking below it now makes me jump because I had no concept of them until they made noise; I'm completely in my own zone doing my own thing -- a much more productive thing.

And I no longer feel creepy because I am watching all that goes on on the street below me.  Creepy creepy writer person.  The cats will be pissed that they can no longer sit in the window -- in fact they've already attempted to chew and claw their way through the barrier -- but they'll either figure out how to get behind it or they will learn to cope as is.  I am heartless.

This is already the best under-$5 writing investment I've ever made.

I can still see the roofs, trees and sky.  On Sunday afternoon I watched two hawks circling high up on currents of hot air. Two became three, circling without flapping. They they glided away, and I went back to typing. The occasional hawk in the distance, or song bird close-up, is a welcome distraction. A rather un-distracting distraction considering the alternative.

I've been thinking about doing this for two years, but I had to spend six weeks in New Hampshire to finally act on it.

What about you -- what's your ideal writing space? Do you have your ideal working space now, or is there something about it you'd like to change? And (forgive me for goading) why not change it now?

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