Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.
THE RIGHT WRITING SPACE
Do you believe in magic? Do you have a special space where your creativity blossoms?
When I first started writing fiction, at age ten, I had a vision in mind: me, in a cozy office lit by Tiffany lamps, tapping away on a typewriter (remember, I said I was ten) and producing page after page of flawless prose, destined for publication and awards. Nowhere in my vision did reality intrude.
A few years later, my mom gave me that typewriter: a big black Remington. I thought I was really on my way to becoming A Writer then. Since no office was available, I put the Remington on a metal stand in a corner of my bedroom, taught myself touch typewriting from a book, and churned out story after story about misunderstood adolescents searching for . . . well, I’m not sure what they were seeking except my recycled versions of popular television shows.
Fast forward a few decades. The Remington gave way to a Smith Corona electric. More paper was sacrificed in my quest for publication. Still my writing didn’t catch fire—with me or anyone else. I plodded, and it showed.
In young adulthood, I bought myself a big old oak roll-top desk. Maybe that would help, I thought.
It didn’t. I still have the desk; it’s a lovely piece of furniture, and I sit at it to pay bills, make phone calls, and write shopping lists. But I don’t write stories there. The desk gives me claustrophobia, with its high sweeping sides and cubbyholes that block the light.
Besides, my computer won’t fit on that desk.
Yep, the Smith Corona is long-gone, replaced first by a Dell desktop and eventually by a sleek little laptop. I bought a cheap metal table at Office Depot and it barely holds the laptop, a tiny printer, and all the electric cords and connectors. There’s not much room for paper or anything else.
And I find it really, really hard to sit at that computer table and write fiction. Ideas refuse to come.
It’s not like I need perfect conditions in order to “create.” I wrote the first draft of Mending Dreams on a 14-passenger commuter van (on the days I wasn’t driving it.) And for a while I wrote at a local bookstore. That actually worked pretty well; the soft white noise around me drowned out the omnipresent Critic who lurked behind me at home.
Then the bookstore remodeled. They expanded and added a “café” to replace their tiny little coffee bar. The clientele expanded, too, and with it the white noise turned harsh and distracting.
Finally, I re-thought my work space. Years ago, I shared a fairly large house with a roommate. The house had three bedrooms plus an office: a wood-paneled room with a built-in desk and tons of cupboards and shelves. My roommate generously forfeited the office to me, and she put her metal office-surplus desk in the third bedroom. Ironically, in the luxury of that genuine office space, I had trouble writing. The wood paneling seemed to swallow light. I found myself gravitating to my roommate’s metal desk when she wasn’t around, because there I felt able to breathe.
Maybe I needed the space and the light because what I was doing—making up stories and creating characters, only to plunge them into emotional pain and despair before they could emerge changed for the better—was such a dark art that it had to be practiced in as much daylight as possible.
I finally found my magic spot in my current home: my dining table, a clunky slab of pine on skinny legs, from Ikea no less. But you know what? It works for me. I can see the street in front of my house, but not enough to distract me. I have room for my stacks of folders, my drafts and notes and thesaurus, and they’re all within arm’s reach. I have a couple of little good-luck tchotchkes there too, and the chair is uncomfortable enough to force stretch breaks now and then. The laptop comes and goes, depending on which phase of writing I’m in.
The downside is that, yes, it’s the dining table, and it actually gets used for dining a few times a year. Mostly we hang out at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, but on birthdays and holidays, I have to move all my paraphernalia somewhere else. But that only takes a few minutes, and the trade-off is worth it.
Light and space and breathing room. For me that’s the answer. But what about the rest of you? Do you have a special place that makes you feel safe and creative? Was it what you expected it to be at the beginning of this crazy journey? Please don’t tell me I’m the only one re-purposing my furniture!
14 thoughts on “The Right Writing Space by Bonnie Schroeder”
No, I can assure you you're not the only writer re-purposing your furniture. For years, my husband Allan and I shared the dining table as a writing surface. Now, lightweight laptops with extended battery life allow us to work almost anywhere, but we tend to gravitate to certain locations. Allan's is…you guessed it…the dining room table, while mine varies. Part of it is that the ideal place to write has changed for practical reasons as well. In the past, you'd sit with your back to the window to type or write by hand, but you must do the opposite with a computer to avoid glare. It is interesting to see how 'where' you create affects 'how' you create. Great post, Bonnie.
I related to this post so well. I write on the dining room table, which means I'm always shifting my computer and papers so we can eat. We do what we must. 🙂 Thank you for sharing. I was worried that it was only me.
A nostalgic stroll through your journey of writing, Bonnie. I actually had one of those metal tables for the old typewriter when I was about eleven. It was on wheels and one side folded down (or up) to hold paper, notes, etc. Now… and for the last many many years I write at one of those pressed-wood computer desks, with a slide out tray for the keyboard (yes, I still use a desktop PC), and cubby holes above the monitor and on one side for envelopes, check books, notebooks and a stupid multi-crossed out check register where I TRY to keep track of all my many passwords. Oh, and a mug full of pens, pencils & highlighters.
It feels comfy. I can't get used to a laptop (I MUST have a mouse that is connected by cord, not controlled by my thumb). It's where I work, I can close the door to block out the sound of the TV, and there's a window on the side revealing a shady front yard.
I think all of us Writers in Residence could possiblly inhabit one house – each in our separate room, and be perfectly happy. Anybody occuping the bathroom yet?
I am SO relieved! Yep, environment makes a difference for sure.And you're right about the “glare factor,” Miko.
Nope, it's not only you, Jackie. What would we do without those multi-purpose dining tables!
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You're so funny! And we all might be able to share that house, although Jackie Vick and I would have to arm-wrestle for rights to the dining table.
I commandeered the third bedroom for my workspace. I write in this room and craft in it, too. Two computers, two printers, six bookshelves, two computer roll-about tables, one long table, one craft table, miniature houses, a puppet theatre, art supplies… It's crowded up here. I even have to hang Fred's birdcage in the open doorway since there is no room anywhere else. You have to squeeze to get into the room. But it's where I create things. It's wonderful, just crowded. Everybody needs a place to make magic.
We would eat on the couch, which is where we wind up eating anyway because the table is messy!
I would never get anything done in your workspace, GB–there is too much fun stuff there to play with! But we've all found the space where the magic happens for us, and that's what counts.
And your workspace is like Aladdin's Cave, Gayle. It's full of such interesting things you have made. It's a very creative space – even if it is crowded. I can see why you write so much!
I, too, have been through the sharing-the-dining-table routine, the 'lap-top-desk' – (that cushion thing with a tiny wooden desk-top) and I even bought a desk similar to Jackie H's. That really felt overpowering and far too serious, with cubby-holes and such. So now I bought a small, pretty dining table (from Ikea, of course) and have that in my 'office' corner of my living-room. It works – sort of. But it's covered with stacks of 'To Do' piles that hide all my writing notes and folders. As you can see, I am still searching for the perfect place to write. I still have visions of an inspiring light and airy room-with-a-view, a massive peasant-style table, a place for my mug of tea and music playing softly as I scribble away, creating magic on my yellow pads, with a stash of freshly sharpened pencils. Bliss! So I am really glad you brought this up, as I thought I was the only one with this secret quest….. Great post Bonnie. Thanks!
Rosie, your perfect space sounds divine. You'll get there!
What a great post, Bonnie, and everyone's comments are also so interesting. Makes me feel good that I'm not alone in workspace being important. For me, being closeted away in a spot that is not part of living space, or with a laptop on my lap in a comfy chair (not often, but sometimes) are my favorite. Funny though, my special writing-area-space has to periodically rearranged, somehow the rearranging being connected to mental energizing. Beats me why. My space is always dusty and junky–though I'm really a neat, organized, and clean person in my mind! Really enjoyed your post, Bonnie, and seeing your dining room table made it so real! Also what's interesting is how some beautiful “desk-type” pieces of furniture I've owned or wanted would make terrible actual writing areas. Thanks for sharing!
It's so interesting to see that all of us have our favorite (and not-so-favorite spots, Mad. Your need to occasionally reorganize yours is very intriguing; I bet it's so you don't get bored looking at the same “stuff” all the time.