The essential question for today: Why do I never, ever write at my writers desk? (Teachers out there, I probably lost you when I volunteered an essential question.)
For as long as I can remember, I've always carved out a writing space. The first was in my bedroom on a floral desk that looked like it climbed straight out of the 1950's. And I lined the desk with pencils, pencil grippers, a trapper keeper, and a bin for my typed pages. These were retro pages from a bona fide grey Royal typewriter with a burgundy lining. I stored my white-out cartridge on the desk, and a stack of unfinished books I intended to read sat precariously on the corner. (I'm not sure I ever finished all of them.) It was pretty darn professional for a teenager before the time of computers and flash drives.
But I never wrote there. I balanced my feet on the edge and painted my toenails. I lined up hermit crabs in obscenely painted shells and watched them race across the desktop. I thought about writing. But I never actually wrote there.
Flash forward to today. My window looks out on a pretend busy road, but there are more trees and flowers and pretty things to watch than cars. Three glass mermaids my mother bought me a million years ago live on this desk by the window. At seven I used to rest the trio on the lip of my bathtub and pretend I could be one of them except I hated dunking my head under the water. Sort of a roadblock for a mermaid wannabe. I keep pens and pencils, scissors and the ultra cool Doane paper and traced handprints of my children on the desk. I made a montage of beautiful notes my husband has given me over the years. I even have a copy of the book my mother made for me when I graduated college. She gathered all of my important stories and writings since I was five and bound them together. I often look back at my Scholastic Writing wins (a national gold key, I have to add) and the very first story I wrote about turning into a cat. Literally if great writing can't happen here, at this desk, well I just don't know where it can.
Yet when I sit down, my pen or laptop freeze. It's quiet, too quiet. I can hear the cogs in my brain grinding against one another. Even when I look out the window there's an eerie sensation of watching a film with no sound. I get little done. I wonder what Sophia and Matthew are doing. If our dog is eating crayons as he is apt to do. He has an odd predilection for shades of red. And after a few scribbles I realize that my best work is not done when I'm sequestered away from all of the bits that make up my life. I know that many writers recommend, insist, that you must have a special place reserved for your writing and writing alone. (See Laurie Halse Anderson's awesome video on the topic. Her writing cabin would make any writer drool.)
I've learned after years of writing, though, that I need the movement of life around me. I'm fairly convinced that this movement invigorates my writing. Ideas take form from the smallest things. My latest story starts with an anecdote my husband told me about a former teacher of his. Had I been sitting at my writing desk, it would have never happened.
Please do not take this to mean that Facebook and the evil internet are necessary requirements and should be blinking in the background. I have been trying little by little to cut back on those things, tv too. But I write better when my daughter is brushing my hair (violent toddler style!) or my son is telling me about middle school lunch table drama. Sure I can't devote my full attention to my writing but I also find I'm sifting through everything playing out in front of me for inspiration. And without inspiration, little gets done.
I'll certainly always keep a writing desk, but I know what works for me. Don't ever be afraid to explore nontraditional spots to write. In the end, you're in charge of what will inspire you to be the best writer you can. Happy writing!