Shelter in Place, Pt. XI: A Writing Space

A writer’s creative space is sacred, or at least that’s the impression that everyone on the internet wants you to have. And, in fairness, they’re not necessarily wrong. Every writer I know, along with the graphic designers, musicians and creators of whatever else, has a favorite place to settle in and get to the messy work of making things. For the most part I’ve followed that advice. Over the years I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words at a desk in my house but I’ve also picked up my laptop and moved to the couch or—gasp!—all the way to the public library where I’ve done a great deal of work as well. It’s possible to write in novel spaces, is my point.

Of course, the space that is always tangentially discussed in these pieces is the one that’s the most important: The creator’s mental space. See, what you need to write isn’t a comfortable chair or a view of the garden or a desk with lots of clean lines. No, what you need to write is the ability to focus on the words in front of you and the words that don’t even exist yet. What you need to write is peace, to be left alone with your thoughts, but also for your thoughts to be yours to command or to let wander as you wish. It’s that last part that I’ve been having trouble with.

Yes, my desk has been converted into a makeshift workplace and yes, even the couch where I write from time to time has become a place of stress and parenting and reading the news. But the physical place where writing occurs is just a place and could be any other. It’s that all important mental space that I can’t replace and, lately, can’t even protect. In the age of COVID-19 and hyper-visible police brutality and the seeming end of functional representative democracy as we once knew it, the intrusion of the world at large into my mental space leaves little room for my own thoughts. I sit down to write creatively and the problem isn’t that I’m sitting at a desk where I’ve just worked for a dozen hours, it’s that no matter how much I try not to, I can’t stop thinking about the world outside and how damaged it is and how much it’s damaging all of us. There’s peace out there too, of course, and good works being done, but I can’t seem to find them in my mind. All I can reliably find is exhaustion and the dread of what might come next. No matter where I sit.

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