A Change of Setting & Some Thoughts On Place

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Last month, I moved my writing desk from the office to a small corner in our living room that had more sunlight. There’s something invigorating about changing your surroundings, even if it is something as small moving your desk. My new writing nook has two white walls for me to play with. It’s became a fun project—how will I decorate? More importantly, how will I decorate with meaning? Yes, it’d be lovely if my nook looked like anthropologie and etsy had a baby, but I want the objects I surround myself with to inspire me with their stories.

Here’s how it’s shaping up so far:

The blank pages. A couple of years ago, my husband did a photography series focused on seeing everyday objects differently. This photo of piles and piles of blank pages became my favorite. Last week, I had it printed on canvas for my office. On the back I wrote “It all starts with the blank page” in permanent marker.

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The kite. I knew the second I saw this kite that I wanted it for my desk. It’s handmade by Michelle M. Jones, one of the first writers whose blogs I started following way back when. Somewhere along the way Michelle announced she was heading in a new direction and a few weeks ago she opened her kite shop, Uplift Artisan. There’s nothing that inspires me more than seeing people pursue and achieve their dreams; in Michelle’s case, it was an actual dream that inspired her. It’s a beautiful story. You can read it and see more of her kites here.

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There’s also the Texas star, and the Texas license plate, each representing different times in my life when I’ve called this state home. There’s a framed portrait of my husband, Maggie and me, hand-drawn by my cousin, and a painting gifted to us by E’s aunt when we moved. There are books I choose to surround myself with for too many reasons to list here. There are notes and quotes like this one.

What are some of the more meaningful objects in your work space? What are their stories?

*Speaking of place, this week at The Debutante Ball I wrote about the less literal sense of place that we all write from, and why moving around can be a good thing. I hope you’ll stop by.

25 Wonderful Photos of Today’s Women Writers At Work

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I came across this post called 16 Wonderful Photos of Women Writers at Work. I loved that it captured so many of the writers who inspired women like me to pursue our love of the written word. They helped fuel entire generations of writers after them, and there was something special about seeing these women in action, in a moment as private as writing behind a desk or as public as signing books for fans.

I wondered what a post like this would look like today, so I put out a call for women writers to send me pictures of themselves at work. I’m tempted to say so much about these pictures, but I think they more than speak for themselves:

1. Camille Noe Pagán, author of The Art of Forgetting

2. Sharon Short, author of My One Square Inch of Alaska, and Emilie Richards, author of Somewhere Between Luck and Trust

3. Suzy Spencer, author of Secret Sex Lives (photo credit: Joe O’Connell)

(more…)

In the Vastness of Memory

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

I was finishing up work yesterday evening when I caught sight of the sunset through our balcony. It was breathtaking—a swirl of deep, burning orange fading into a nearly indigo purple. I grabbed my phone and tried to take a picture when an odd thing happened.

Seeing the sky through the tiny lens of my smartphone did it no justice. As the camera struggled to focus, it created an illusion of distance, making the sunset appear shrunken, both in beauty and in scope. I thought, of course. How foolish of me. I put away the phone and watched the sun disappear over the horizon.

I think I’d meant to share it. Maybe post it on Instagram or Facebook. It was, after all, just me and my dogs on the balcony, but shouldn’t that be enough? We’ve gotten so used to sharing the most beautiful moments of our lives (or at least, the most photogenic moments) as if broadcasting them to our social networks somehow validates them. As if it’s proof that we exist, that we live this life, somewhere in this alternate online dimension. Sometimes I wonder who we’re trying so hard to prove it to.

I know it’s an odd thing to express on a blog of all things. It might even seem hypocritical. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with social networking lately. I love the people it’s helped me connect to. I hate the co-dependency that constantly being plugged in has fostered. Please don’t get me wrong: That compulsion, that need to check for updates multiple times a day or else feel like I’m missing out on something…that has nothing to do with you or the many friends I’ve met online. It has everything to do with repeated habits that become behaviors that become hard to break when we’re so constantly and instantly gratified with a timeline of tidbits and pictures and articles that is endlessly being refreshed.

I’m not saying let’s all be done with it. I’m just saying I want the control back. I want to share the occasional moment and be at peace with keeping some for myself, to revel in and enjoy as they happen with the people I love so much in my life.

And I have a feeling a lot of us do, too. If it’s not too late to make a new year’s resolution, or a resolution for all my years to come, here it is:

When I look back at my life I want to know I didn’t spend it trying to capture the sky in something as small as a smartphone but rather in the vastness of memory.

photo by: kevin dooley

Why Every Writer Needs a Dark, Safe Place

Monday, April 9th, 2012

For the past week or so, this has been my view when I sit down to write:

That image is not an error. I have literally been writing in the dark, with my favorite bandana as a blindfold and my computer on my lap. Thank goodness I learned how to type without looking when I was eight, or my exercise in getting the romance back into my writing would have failed miserably.

But I’m so happy to tell you it’s really worked. It’s liberating, actually, to not have to see the words as they appear on the screen, and to know that I can’t delete more than a few keys because otherwise I’d lose my train of thought. When I’m writing in the dark, there are no distractions—I can’t let my gaze wander away from my computer to my bookshelf or the park outside, or to my dogs playing tug-of-war. I can’t remove my fingers from the keyboard unless I want to struggle to find my place again. By forcing myself to see nothing, the images in my mind become clearer, and I worry less about how they look on the screen and more about just jotting them down. I’ve become kind of addicted to this game of typing for what seems like a short amount of time, only to realize I have several pages’ worth of writing when I remove the blindfold. Of course, then it’s time to edit. That’s a job done with eyes wide open.

Around this time last year, I read a post by Dani Shapiro called On Writing in the Dark. Her darkness was a figurative place, but it resonated with me so much that ever since I’ve always wanted to get back there. In the post she laments not having stayed in the dark longer. Talking about her unpublished writing students, she writes: “In the dark, they are free to grow, blooming like midnight plants. Even though it’s not always comfortable, that darkness is the best possible place a writer can live. There are no expectations, no definitions.”

But stepping “out of the dark” doesn’t just apply to published writers anymore; it applies to aspiring authors wanting to build their online platforms, writers who monitor Twitter and blogs to learn more about craft and the publishing industry. Eventually we realize that all this information needs to be managed properly or else our world gets too noisy. We need to be able to step away sometimes, lower the volume, turn off the lights, and find a quiet place with our thoughts.

For me, for now, I feel like I’ve finally found that place. I just wasn’t expecting it to be so literal.

Have you ever tried writing in the dark? What do you do when you need to clear your mind and focus on the writing?

A Call for More Romance in This Love Affair

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

bookheartWhen I was a teenager I had a favorite writing spot. We had (by Miami standards, anyways) a pretty big backyard, with a canal running through it, and before you stepped onto the grass you’d pass under a ceramic-tiled gazebo, where there hung an orange hammock we’d bought years ago on the Mexican border. At night, if I held still long enough for the motion sensitive lights to shut off, I’d be surrounded by darkness. The only light was the one I switched on overhead as I sat on the hammock and wrote.

I loved that spot because of how isolated it felt, as if I’d snuck away to spend time with my thoughts and words. It was unusually quiet—most nights all you’d hear was the rustling of palm tree leaves getting pushed around by the wind. I remember writing about how the wind hugged me with its cool arms (I was a teenager, remember?) and closing my eyes to take it all in.

Looking back, it was all very dramatic and romantic, even slightly cheesy, judging by the poems I wrote. But I miss it. Not just the hammock and the backyard, but the seduction and excitement. If writing is a lifelong love, then this was my infatuation phase, when I couldn’t get enough of words on paper, and I wrote without fear or insecurity because I was too caught up in wanting it.

Is my love affair with writing quite as steamy more than ten years later? Now that I get to write all day every day, for both work and fiction, I don’t doubt that the love is there…but I want the romance back. It’s easy to lose that part when you’re told that writing is all discipline, that it means doing it even when you don’t want to, that it’s revising and rewriting and scrutinizing every last sentence. I don’t want to just make time for fiction in my life; I want to steal small moments with it, sneak off to a dark corner and get a few words in to hold me over for the next time. I want to feel stupid, and silly, and overly-sentimental about it (this post is a good start). I want writing to make me feel young and foolish again.

But romance isn’t just a switch we can flip. So here’s what I plan to do, and I hope you’ll join me if you’re looking to reignite that spark, too.

1. Read more poetry, preferably aloud. It’s more sensual this way; you can feel the words forming on your tongue and then release.

2. Don’t leave your house without either a book or a notepad. Next time you’re standing in line somewhere and want to check your phone for email or Twitter, don’t. Love means making time and making time means prioritizing. Show your love in even the tiniest moments.

3.  Make a date out of it. Go someplace romantic with just you and some pen and paper. Sit alone in a crowded cafe or under a tree on a blanket and spend quality time with your thoughts.

4. Experiment. Rewrite a scene from a new POV. Write on your computer, blindfolded. Indulge all the senses—taste what your characters can smell and listen to what they’re touching.

5. Stay in the moment. Even if it’s just five minutes. Always remember that you’re lucky to be in this relationship.

Did I miss any? Add your own tips in the comments.

xoxo…

Creative Commons License photo credit: wewiorka_wagner

 

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