I have made six different plans to create a writing space for myself this year. They ranged from most work (move miles away) to the least amount of work. The least amount worked. Let’s explore these plans.
The first plan was to move west and buy a much bigger house where the exurbs promise lower home costs (and values). I’d get me a giant office for writing and books and records and all great old things.
That plan failed.
Stay in town but move to a moderately bigger place with an office for me.
That plan failed.
Stay put. Staying is great. Simple living is great. My wife and kids were happy. We love our neighbors. My three-year-old couldn’t imagine not living next to “Uncle Charlie.”
I, however, wasn’t as thrilled. After all, I needed a space to compose a masterpiece. I needed a sacred space, a space for prayer, meditation, and fiction writing. No such space existed in my house.
Build a writing shed.
This plan got off the ground in a big way. I researched building codes. I purchased a shed to be delivered just before the summer. I would add heat and AC. It would be perfect. But a financial crisis or two declared to me, “you are broke, dude. You can’t afford a new home, new shed, or new shoes.”
Abandon Your Family
I decided that, even though despair was setting in, this plan of abandoning my family to be a bohemian somewhere south of the border was probably not ideal, especially if I wanted to write with integrity.
Use the space you have. This is the plan that I recommend. It is the plan that I did. Here is how you can do it.
STEP ONE- Set a Goal
My goal is simple: to hear the voice of God and write fiction that shares that voice. For this, I need a contemplative, mystical, sacred space: a space that inspires awe.
STEP TWO-Find a Closet or Corner that You Can Use
This step was hard. We are thankful for our 3 bedroom 2 bath, but it is about as small as a 3 bedroom 2 bath can be, and we don’t have a garage. That means there are virtually no unused corners when you have a family of five.
There was, however, one space. It is a closet under the stairs. Harry Potter style. It had no doors; it leads to the crawl space; it was filled with tools and board games. Te ceiling is quite short. It was perfect.
Step Three-Build Your Space
I put in some sick flooring. I painted the studs—no drywall, that would take up another .75 inches of my 5 ft by 3 ft office with sloping ceilings.
On the back of the unfinished walls, I painted with chalkboard paint. It worked perfectly. It looks very old and very writerly.
Step Four-Fill Your Space With Items that Will Help You Achieve Your Goal
I had two goals while filling this space:
1-It had to be functional. When you have 15 square feet, and you are a 220 lb man (all muscle, seriously), you need to make the space count.
2-It had to feel sacred. Writing novels sucks. Writing a second novel is in some ways easier than a first, and in other ways absolutely soul crushing. More posts to come on that.
Goals one and two are at odds with each other. I left out some things that I would have included. I wanted more icons and paintings, but four pieces of art and a few knick-knacks will have to do.
I added a few shelves to house my tobacco pipes, knick-knacks and records. After all, we have to inspire awe. MP3s don’t really do that.
Here is a picture of one of my favorite additions. It’s an antique PO Box. I keep notecards with next steps of my novel in it. It is functional and really cool and old.
Here is the cheapest, smallest record player I could find. It’s not the highest quality setup, but the low-fi sound adds to the mystique. I also keep the record player on my desk while I write. The turning record is therapeutic if not mesmerizing.
The DESK was a concern at first. There is no room, so I had to make it movable. It is on hinges and attaches to the wall.
In trying to create a new voice for a new novel, I have begun to write by hand more. That means notebooks, which are certainly not as functional. But I cut a hole under the other side of the stairs. This section is basically the crawl space, but I can remove a little access wall and reach a portable file cabinet when I need to look at some older piece of writing.
I have also sworn never to have distractions in this room, other than a book or two and records, so I am using a seven-year-old Macbook. I removed the wifi card a couple of years ago. No other computer will enter this space.
Jonathan Franzen argues for this sort of distance from the Internet while writing fiction. His reasoning is that he doesn’t think writers will research well with the Internet. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but my concern is that I’ll GChat and judge people on Facebook too much.
Step 5—Keep Your Space Sacred
This is a writing space. You don’t do anything else in here. You can read for inspiration, meditate, pray, but you can’t do your bills or grade papers or surf the web. That will lead to you being a total failure as a writer and as a human being.
I’m rereading Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. So I’m trying to write in this same space at the same time everyday. I want to write early in the mornings, but it doesn’t work, so I am writing just after the kids go to sleep. I’m allowed to write in here at other times, but I HAVE TO WRITE at my designated time.
Go and do likewise.