Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guest Post: A Writer's Space... Ideal vs. Reality

by Christi Corbett

When I was young, I pictured the location where authors/writers did their work. It was always some variation of the following:

The recently showered and fully dressed author/writer pads down a long hallway and opens a door to their own private writing space. Clutching a mug of tea/coffee, the writer sits down at a comfortable chair located behind a highly polished, very organized mahogany desk. There is a wall of books on one wall and a window with a completely astounding view of a lake, a mountain, or a field of wildflowers.

Selecting a full pen from a drawer, the author/writer thinks for a long moment and at the precise moment inspiration hits, leans over a clean piece of paper and the words begin to flow.

Then I became a writer. Here is the reality.

On a typical day, when I’ve begged and pleaded for time to write, I can count on a minimum of five interruptions per hour. Last time I reserved a block of time to write I kept track of said interruptions for my own amusement.

6:30 AM Hubby wants to know where the flea powder is—dog is scratching
6:41 AM Hubby comes in room for some clothes
7:01 AM Hubby brings me breakfast (OK—this one is great! Love him!)
7:09 AM Powdered, yet still scratching, dog is let into the room
7:25 AM Kids come in to see if I have any bacon left and can they have it
7:36 AM Boy twin comes in for a hug
7:42 AM Hubby needs toilet paper, where are extra rolls kept?
8:08 AM Girl twin needs me to fix her hair
8:25 AM Knock at window reveals family showing ripened tomatoes
8:26 AM Boy twin can’t find toy army men… do I know where they are?
8:50 AM Girl twin wants to weigh herself
9:01 AM Hubby needs jersey to watch upcoming football game
9:17 AM Hubby wants to know if he can pull bread from freezer

And so on.

So, that is a typical block of “writing time” for me. Now, let's move on to the instruments for said writing.

My computer is ten years old, shuts off at will (usually when I haven’t saved in a while or I’m in the middle of a fantastic run of words), and is located in a peeling wood veneer cabinet that is shoved in the corner of my bedroom. My kids find everything in the cabinet fascinating and things disappear at will. (4-year-old twins find calculators, screen cleaners, coasters, my drafts, and note cards to be much fun to play with).

Sometimes I don’t use the computer. When inspiration strikes I use anything that is at hand. Some examples:

• Sticky notes (they paste so nicely to the computer monitor, don’t they?)
• Backs of envelopes
• Any kind of paper with a blank space on it anywhere
• You get the drift

As for writing utensils… our pens never have ink in them (my fault since I leave them clicked open all the time), so I’ve had to improvise at times:

• Crayons
• Lipstick
• Dry erase markers
• And my personal favorite—using the tip of an empty pen to gouge the words into the paper. Trust me, if you’ve got a great flow of words coming to you this will work!

It is during these times that I try to remember it all comes down to this: How you write doesn’t matter, as long as you’re writing!

39 comments:

  1. This is Part One of a series.

    Please visit my blog to read Part Two, where I detail what my family has to put up with from me.

    Christi
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

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  2. This was great! I'm heading over to see part two!

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  3. I love it! This is too true for me as well! Except, I get an hour or two from Midnight until 2:00 AM to try and squeeze in some writing.

    ~Sydney

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  4. Wow--I can relate to this. My MAC is almost 7 years old and I don't have a "room of my own" to write in. I recently bought an inexpensive netbook ($200) so I can write elsewhere. I love it...

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  5. Howling with laughter. I wonder if you have been spying on me through my eReader.

    wvs: twort-when the word flow is thwarted by family life

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  6. Okay, that was supreme. I'll be coasting over to check out part two. In the mean time, here's my sort of writing time. Actual times are completely irrelevant, I write whenever I can:

    Get the notebook open and read the last bit of what I wrote just to get into it

    Donkey brays outside the window, he wants some hay, even though he doesn't need it.

    ignore donkey, write one or two sentences

    My cat and my dad's cat get into a fight, I have to break them up

    write a line

    Dog falls down the stairs (she's fifteen and portly) time taken to assess afore mentioned dog and be sure she's okay

    phone rings, horse down at the farm, injury/illness currently being diagnosed

    write another sentence, cat yacks a hair ball, I clean up

    old dog has to go out to the bathroom.

    farm calls back, vet on the way, it's one of the old (30+) girls, doesn't look good, do I want to come over 'In case...' ?

    pace around, writing a line here or there, trying to decide whether or not to go to the farm.

    Meanwhile one of MY horses gallops passed, chasing the donkey, and falls down.

    Assess my horse - filthy and fine.

    get dressed, still writing, trip over old dog and fall down.

    close notebook

    get to the door the phone rings, it's the farm.... old girl is doing great, farted a whole bunch and the vet's there, situation normal

    *sigh* head back to the notebook. :)

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  7. Very funny stuff! Entertaining post!

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  8. Luckily I picture all writes as either Hank Chinasky or Hank Moody - I love drink, fighting, screwing around, and typing.

    Living the dream!

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  9. LOL :) This is great Christi! I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who gets to write in blocks of sometimes 10 whole minutes at a time!

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  10. Haha, how true how true. You know, I spent many hours trying to get my writing space to be better. And I did a good job (desk, chair, Macbook, etc.). But have I written any more or written any better than I used to? NOPE.

    "Ideal" is just an excuse. Reality is writing.

    Thanks for a great post, y'all! I love that there's a Part 2, too. :)

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  11. I consider myself lucky, then. Chunks of time alone, I often look for intermissions from writing. So, I'm on the other side of the spectrum...doesn't mean that I write more - just means that I have more time to scratch my head, take long trips to the fridge, look for long lost friends to bother, watch the clock tick-tack-tick-tack. Oh, and forget to get out of my pajamas...

    Loved your piece. Inspirational.
    (Going to check part 2)

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  12. Great post!

    I also love how many people assume that being a writer is glamorous. The reality check is that as I sit here in my questionably stable, 15-year-old desk chair, I am drafting a chapter of my current WIP while wearing less-than-clean yoga pants and a similarly matched t-shirt (got that whole "real job" thing going on in the mornings, which requires sweat, wheee). Befor I get up, I will frantically search for my Post It notes (I am a total slave to those things) on which I scrawled some ideas I wanted to incorporate, and I may or may not keep *any* of what I've written today when I go to edit later. Writing is messy, and it sometimes leaves me literally yelling at my computer (or my protagonist...or myself...). There's nothing really relaxing and cozy about it, and it is, uh, not glamorous on my end. It's a pajamas and slippers, no-I-haven't-eaten-in-ten-hours-but-MAN-am-I-cooking-on-this-scene-so-who-cares-if-I-pass-out-now, crumpled Post Its full of stuff I've abandoned, what-do-you-MEAN-that-agent-isn't-accepting-queries-right-now?!, where did I *put* those crumpled Post Its that I now suddenly need more than oxygen kind of affair. All the time.

    And I'm weirdly addicted to it.

    Glad I'm not the only one :)

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  13. Hilarious! Good thing you thrive in chaos. Love your writing and looking forward to reading Along the Way Home.

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  14. Oh my, I could have written your post, right down to the boy/girl twins (except mine are three) and ancient computer. The only thing I don't have is an itchy dog, but my husband more than makes up for that with all the times he begs me to scratch his back.

    I've been known to buy and play movies for the kids just so they'll SIT STILL for a little while and let me write.

    I am not above blackmail.

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  15. Christi, this is awesome, and very encouraging :). I, too, have engraved words into paper with a dry pen--it works well!

    Good luck w/ your writing, and happy holidays!

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  16. I am overwhelmed!

    Everyone has been so great, and so encouraging. with all your comments here and on my blog (where by the way you can read part two of this post)

    It is SO good to know that I'm not alone in the struggle to get words to paper, much less carve out time to make them great words!

    Thanks again everyone!
    Christi
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

    PS. While typing this I had to stop three times for various interupptions by the twins :)

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  17. I so hate losing work! Hope you'll pardon a mundane aside, but your computer could be shutting down because it's overheating.

    I'd recommend making sure the fan vent is clear and that a decade of dust isn't smothering it.

    You could also try aiming a fan at it, though part of the problem could be that it's in an enclosed space without enough ventilation. If there's enough room, maybe taking it out of the cabinet and putting it next to it would help.

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  18. That's awesome. Yeah, it sounds a bit like my situation. I have 5 kiddos at my place, so I find that my door takes on the characteristics of a rotating door for a hotel lobby... one comes in...the other goes out....one comes in....etc.

    All in all, keep writing! I loved the post.

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  19. My image of a writer was always much the same as yours - Stephen J. Cannell zipping out another page in that perfect mahogany office.

    And yeah, scratching notes with dry pens can work pretty well if you hold the page to the light just so.

    (Thanks also to A. Grey for the farm version - a friend lives exactly that way, but with a goat instead of a donkey.)

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  20. Really loved the list format you used. Your writing delighted and tickled me.

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  21. I don't know how long I could stay married to a person that so obviously couldn't respect my time or the work I was trying to do. Children is one thing, but your husband's frequent interruptions seemed almost intentional as they continued. I had a similar problem with my wife when we first moved in together. My writing time got shorter and shorter. Thankfully, now I have my commute to write.

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  22. This is so incredibly familiar. Luckily, I don't have offspring to interrupt me, but regular interruptions by the cat and la esposa are so routine that I've taken to leaving my current project loaded all the time, even when I'm supposed to be gaming with her (Shhh! Don't tell her!), so that I can get in a few words between murlocs.

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  23. Delightful. Reminds me of my writing time minus the door and the twins. husband is on the other side of the table and can come up with an amazing number of things that need doing that he hasn't a clue how to do.

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  24. Amen to that! I pictured the same lovely things growing up, but I was piled under blankets, 2 kids crawling on me, one Barbie car, 3 barbies with my laptop open... so said children went and got their Barbie laptops (theme here?) that make VERY obnoxious sounds, but I wrote the best 2 pages ever :)

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  25. I've got to try the gouging holes into the paper. What a hilarious post. Thank you.

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  26. I do so clearly remember the days when my children were little and I tried to carve out time to write. Just remind yourself, this too, shall pass. Because it does, way faster than you think it will!

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  27. Wow! I feel lucky that I get little more time for writing. I’ve no hubby no children (I’m a 23 student); I don’t work and don’t cook my food, have one cat who most of the times takes care of his own. I live in hostel not in home. I don’t attend parties, never take part in chatting. Writing work groups are not here to waste my time. No novels are available here.
    I read books but those on medicine and surgery and pediatrics and gynecology… and try to memorize those mindless things. No one here believes in novels and imaginations; all they want is bookish facts. And sometimes I give exams not related to writing. And I have to take gaps for preparing.
    I read research books and journals especially on neuroscience. I also try to find a suitable research to do in this village like situation. Have to attend hospital and attend patients. I have a computer which is fixed in my room. And I have to attend computer classes to know C and C++.
    Still I’m lucky that I get time for writing. Well I wake- up at 1.00 am and sleep by 10.00 pm. And still I feel cheerful.

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  28. Last writing stint:

    Got up at 3:30 a.m. to use the bathroom (it happens). The bride and I were in a small guest bedroom at the in-laws' for Christmas.

    And our two dogs.

    When I came back to bed, the dogs had taken my place. I stacked their wooly sleeping mats in a corner of the room and sat with a pen and notebook, my back against the wall, and made notes for my current revision by flashlight.

    It went well, I might add. A laptop, though, probably would have gone weller.

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  29. I LOVE this and I totally gouge words onto the backs of catalogs and grocery lists with long-dry pens!

    Headed over to read part 2.

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  30. his was great! I'm heading over to see part two!

    kobe beef

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  31. This is SO me!

    Congrats on writing despite an uninterrupted flow. My favorite writing moments (that I'm sure you've had) are in the middle of the night when I lean over to scrawl words onto whatever paper is on my bedside table. In the dark, of course, with whatever writing utensil is there. It's always such a lovely suprise when I can actually decipher what I wrote in the morning.

    Can't wait to see part two.

    (And my laptop is 10 years+ old. I just got a new Macbook Pro--yeah! But I can't get my manuscript to sync without freaking Word for Mac out. So on what do I write? The old HP.)

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  32. Hello--may I should proof read. "Congrats on writing WITHOUT an uninterrupted flow."

    Sheesh.

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  33. Jacqui,
    I actually have a pen with a flashlight feature. It really helps for those late night ideas :)
    Christi

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  34. Wonderful post, Christi. Thanks for the chuckle. Non-writers might think this was delightful fiction but not so, right? Too many of us have been there at some point not to recognize it as writerly reality. Now, mind you, I have a huge stash of pens (I think I'm a "pen-oholic") PLUS the pen you mention with a flashlight feature for night time use, so don't have to scratch words into anything. AND I have a tall stack of empty notebooks (I do so love browsing in office supply stores!). There are no children living at home now and hubby is cooperative. I even have an office of my own. Now if I could only get past my own procrastination. ;)

    Heading over to check out part two.

    Carol

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  35. Maybe just because I'm single without kids, I actually have your fantasy writing environment (okay, okay, it's a faux-wood Ikea desk, not mahogany) . Oddly enough, I still go to the coffee shop to do "serious uninterrupted work" half the time. ;)

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  36. I really love the work that you have been doing as of late, so thank you so much for everything that you have been sharing with us.


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