A Place Of Our Own

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Woo Hoo!  Tomorrow's the Big Day!  Don't forget to sign up for the Drunk At First Sight Blogfest if you haven't already.  And of course check back in the morning to read all the great fiction.

Now, on to the business of the day.  I am still relatively new to the writing game, and so every day I learn something new about my fiction process and pick up tips and tricks to continue to try to cultivate my creativity and to keep pushing out content--regardless of distractions.  My recent journey back to the United States, a trip that essentially returned me to a life and lifestyle I stepped out of a year ago, has got me to thinking about place and it's importance in my writing process.  I've always had a strong affinity for different kinds of places, and have gathered--not necessarily consciously, but through self-observation after the fact--that my creativity ebbs and flows based on my geographic location.

When you get right down to it, my writing setup in Baghdad was pretty simple.  We lived two to a room in units called CHU's (Containerized Housing Units--gotta love those acronyms), basically sheet metal single-wides.  Lights.  Electric outlets.  Rudimentary furniture.  Not much else.

My writing routine involved getting up about two-hours before work, tip-toeing around so as not to wake the room-mate, making a short walk to other side of the compound and back for coffee, then getting down to business.  Fiction attack position was in bed, in the dark, laptop on my laptop, typing away.  I wrote until time to hit the showers, shave, and head off to start my "normal" workday.

Occasionally I got time to write mid-afternoon, and then again late in the evening.  If given the choice, I turned the lights off regardless of the time of day, because I found it easier to focus without the pale fluorescent glow of the overheads.  I could make it work with lights on or at other locations if I had to, but I certainly got down a better line in my dark little cubby with no distractions.

And that's the key.  Though my surroundings were rather spartan, they were also remarkably free of distractions.

At the house in Corpus Christi where I am now, I am learning that the lack of distraction in Baghdad was indeed a luxury.  Not that I don't enjoy hanging out with Furnace Girl and Muffin--on the contrary, it's the allure of spending an hour watching TV or going out to dinner that gives these distractions their power.  With jet lag and the new rhythm of life, it's been hard to get back to my early morning routine.  Also, since we are renting, finding a space in the house that I can call my own, where I can settle down and get to work, has been a challenge.

When I think about writing and place, I remember a story one of my college English professors told about Jose Luis Borges, who taught for several years at the University of Texas at Austin--my Alma mater.  Borges, of course, was a brilliant fictionist (if you've not read Dream Tigers, I suggest you get thee to an Amazon or a Barnes and Noble and purchase a copy post-haste), but beyond all the mirrors, labyrinths and libraries that Borges evokes on the page, it was one of Borges' comments reported by that professor that has stuck with me the longest: Borges said he liked Austin.  He dreamed well there.  And if you have read Borges, you know that dreams are a big part of his fiction.

That idea of the importance of place has always stuck with me.  I wonder now what effect this new place and lifestyle and all that comes with it will have on my fiction.  During my travels, certain cities have historically gotten my creative juices flowing.  Dublin is hands down the best place for me creatively.  I think it's because it feels foreign and exotic and like home at the same time (my father's family is from Ireland and I've visited Dublin a dozen or so times over the years).  New York--not surprisingly--is another inspirational place, although I've only visited there a handfull of times.  I remember the last time we went to visit friends, I quite literally had a voice in my head as we walked all over town telling me there was a story around every corner.  Corny, yes, but true.

I also find that specific kinds of places can overturn a creative stone or two.  Everyone knows that showers, exercise time, and that last few minutes right before falling asleep can be virtual creative goldmines, but I also get some of my best story ideas in other locations like airports, bus and train stations, museums and churches.

What about you?  What kinds of places inspire and influence your writing?  If there was one thing you could change about the location where you currently write, what would it be?

11 bolts from the blue:

Scott said...

9 times out of 10, I'm at the kitchen table with the laptop. The main distraction: the view out the window. 1 time out of 10 I'm in my office, and I'm pretty good about staying more focused.

I write when I write, and when I don't I don't. The main key for me is: alone time. My partner works nights, so I normally try to write in the evening after he leaves for work, or in the morning on Saturday before he gets up. Otherwise . . . what are you doing? : )

S

propinquity said...

Those are interesting questions and worthy of some rather lengthy reflection. So, after pondering them for a bit, I'd have to say that the place which inspires me the most is my car, with the radio on. Inevitably, my brain shifts into overdrive while toodling down the road, and the lyrics of various songs spark all sorts of ideas for stories or poetry. Often I will pull off the road and jot down a word or sentence so I don't forget.

Cities and urban areas tend to inspire my writing, whereas the countryside, the lake, the beach, the mountains, all inspire my artistic side. So all I need is a city overlooking the ocean and I should be able to crank out a beautifully illustrated best-seller! Maybe that's why I like L.A. so much.

What would I change about the location where I currently write? Well, at the risk of sounding completely selfish and heartless, the one thing I would change is that I would live alone. I love my family to pieces, but I love solitude, and just don't get enough of it.

Thanks Jon, for a great post. Lots to think about now.

SM Schmidt said...

I know I write better at my dorm vs when I visit home. My theory is at school if my dorm is noisy I can slip away to the dead silence of the library. Basically I can escape from people. I need to be relatively alone to write. At home though, I don't have outside respect for my writing time so people pop in whenever and it breaks the flow.

So long as I have an ipod and a computer I'm good for writing. Once I get into my novel I sort of forget the outside world. Thinking back, some of my best writing has come from inside hotel rooms after hitting the exhaustion point with nothing good on tv to watch instead.

sarahjayne smythe said...

The power of place is profound. When I lived in NYC, the energy there made me the most productive I think I've ever been.

Now I write when and where I can and it's not nearly focused enough.

Liza said...

For the last year, I've been writing in a cupboard, literally...we adjusted shelves and put the computer in there. For the past two weeks though, I've been sitting at a table in the living room which is warmer, and where I can spread out a bit, and look out at the street. Sometimes the glare of the sun pokes at my eyes. I like either place, but I suppose the ultimately luxury would be a room with a door.

Donna Hole said...

I think you're spot on with that "sense of place" to write. I'm a mover - moved households about 12 times in the last 7 years. I never feel unpacked, and even when I spend more than a year in one place, it is has never had that "mine" feeling.

I've always shared space. I look forward to that empty nest syndrome simply because there might finally be a place for me to do my own thing in.

Well, its my dream. It needs to work out, or I'll have no more excuses for procrastination in writing. I still have a good eight years left of shared space to dream.

It's so great that you got to experience a bit of "place" for yourself in your trip. You have something valuable you took home.

..........dhole

Claire Dawn said...

In Japan, I live on my own in a 5 room house. Most days, I have 3 or so hours at work, where I'm not required to do anything. When the kids are on break, I am still required to be at work, but I have 8 hours of nothing to do.

I can definitely concentrate best on my work here.

Btw, here's my Drunk at First Sight story. http://aclairedawn.blogspot.com/2010/03/love-of-irish.html
It involves St Paddy's, Irish things AND alcohol. 3 for 3!

Jen said...

I have finally made my way over to your fantastic blog! I continued to here things about the blogfest entry and just ran out of time, but I am really enjoying all the entries on the blogosphere! What a fun-tastic idea!!!

Paul Lamb said...

I've gotten a few good ideas while mowing the lawn. Mindless, repetitive activity allows the mind to wander. For the most part, though, all of my epiphanies have come when I'm at the office, supposedly focusing on doing work for others. I scribble some hasty notes on a pad I keep for the purpose and then transcribe them to the laptop when I get home. Nonetheless, most of my creative work gets done at my laptop on my dining room table in the early hours of the morning. Whatever works, works.

Yvonne said...

Hi Jon Paul,
I'm here from Tricia's. I like your place. And I would've love writing something for this blogfest-drunk at first sight...yeah, better than PG love scenes!:) But I'm a bit late.

Speaking of place....it can be a powerful thing but more important to me than place is solitude. Places and memories influence my writing, of course they're key, but to step into the trance of the "vivid, continuous dream" I must be alone.

See you again!

Jon Paul said...

Scott--I'm with you on the alone time. And that's been a big challenge coming back for me because (of course) Furnace Girl wants to hang out. So finding that kind of time has to be more of a conscious effort now.

Propinquity--The car is good for me too--although I haven't yet gotten smart enough to put a notepad there. Must make that change now that I'll be driving more.

Schmidty--Yeah, back in school the library was a great place to get lost for a few hours--or a whole afternoon. And I tend to have to exhaust all other entertainment sources to finally get some good stuff down too.

Sarahjayne--I agree. NYC truly rocks. That's why I want to live in NYC once before I buy the farm.

Liza--As I have a door for my room, I'll stop complaining now. :D

Donna--Sounds like we have a similar track record on the moving. Military tends to do that. In two years, I retire and we'll be one spot after that for awhile--so we're already figuring out how it will work. Until then, I'm finding a way to make due.

Claire--Yeah, my last job was a little like that; makes for productive days. Loved your story BTW.

Jen--Thanks. It was so much fun.

Paul--It is so funny to me how that period of time when you should be doing something else and you realize you should be doing something else can be so creatively productive. I hereby dub it The Hookie Effect, because that happens to me all the time.

Yvonne--Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I find flow important too and I think being on my own is one essential component to achieving that state.

Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting!

Waddaya wanna say?

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