Reclaimed Writing Sanctuary

My office is my sanctuary, my refuge. It’s a safe harbor when facts and ideas, when scenes, characters, and plot twists bombard me. It’s where I get to choose which distractions to allow in, where I’m able to sort through the jumble of thoughts and ideas to make sense of them. It’s where I translate it all into black words on white paper with hope my reader is informed and/or entertained.

It’s not only the stuff of imagination I need to corral in order to, as Hemingway said, “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It’s also the quotes and images I collect to remain inspired. It’s keeping track of the files–research, clippings, or projects. It’s all the paperwork related to the business side of things, from contracts to promo ideas and details for presentations. (Not to mention the research, contracts, and supplies to create and manage those presentations.)

Quotes & photos surround writing space at edge of living room.

Quotes & photos surround writing space at edge of living room.

So, a defined place–a sanctuary–is vital to maintain a writer’s life. As Virginia Woolf called it, “a room of one’s own.” For the past 28 years, as I have devoted whatever free time I could find to learning and practicing my craft, I have had a spot in my home dedicated to my writing. At first it was a cool L-shaped bookshelf desk I had in high school and brought with me to my first apartment. Later, at a bigger apartment, I used a 5-foot space at the edge of my living room partitioned off with that bookshelf desk plus a computer nook. (Remember those?) Each move resulted in more space seized for my writing area. Until this move. It was a big deal. This condo has an extra bedroom that became the office. My office, my sanctuary.

But my writing refuge had become invaded in the past year. It was my fault. A too busy life caused me to dump book bags and art/writing supplies after each teaching gig or presentation. I moved files and clippings into piles for later, when I’d have time to pursue them, and I worked around the clutter. Until a few months ago when I realized I never wrote in my office anymore.

I realized I’d been chiseling out a space in other areas of my condo and writing mostly on my laptop. My office became a dumping ground. When my father passed away, more stuff got dumped there. Each time I decided to get it uncluttered and organized, I would walk in and promptly walk back out. It was too overwhelming.

View behind desk of stacked files and clutter.

View behind desk of stacked files and clutter.

It wasn’t until I decided that I truly missed the reverence I used to have for my writing that I was able to tackle the clutter and get organized. And truly, that’s what it was about. Reverence. My office really was a sanctuary–a chancel, a bema–for both my writing and myself. It was a place to retreat from the distractions of life and get lost in the world of my fiction projects or imagine sharing information with young readers and getting them fired up about a nonfiction topic.

The hard part was how overwhelming it had become. A friend suggested just tossing everything but I knew there were gems hidden among the files. There had to be a way to succeed without feeling I had murdered viable ideas by burying them in the recycle bins. So, I rearranged my office. I moved the file cabinets next to each other and did the same with the bookcases. I had to move the desk and furniture so that meant everything got moved. It took a lot of time. Then it took a few more months to sort through stacked boxes piled in one corner and decide whether to keep the contents, file some, or toss it all.

After sorting and reorganizing. Still a lot of stuff but racks and in-boxes keep it organized.

After sorting and reorganizing. Still a lot of stuff but racks and in-boxes keep it organized.

But the effort was worth it. First, within a few days the furniture was rearranged. Though I still had tons to sort through, the books were all on shelves and the desk and computer were functional. Second, I was immediately able to work again, in part because the piled boxes were behind my line of vision. (There was a lot of junk shoved in the closet, too, but clearing that out came later.) I love looking up, across the top of the monitor and seeing my writing/reference books long with cards, photos, and objects. On a nearby wall I have a cork board–a visual arrangement of inspiring quotes and images. Just beyond that are my character and story collages.

Inspired while writing by "wall of books" and knick-knacks across the room.

Inspired while writing by “wall of books” and knick-knacks across the room.

 

Finally, I spend far more time in my office. I’m happy here, and productive. More importantly, the space is dedicated and “sacred” again. It’s devoted to creativity and writing. Once again, it’s my writing sanctuary.

What’s your space look like? Have you carved out a spot? Have an dedicated room? If so, do you treat it–and your writing–with reverence?

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Freedom Friday

Happy 4th of July to my American friends and followers!

LadyLiberty

I’m glad Independence Day falls on a Friday this year. I needed the reminder to guard my freedom to write every Friday. It’s long been my “free” writing day. It’s not that I needed to be reminded that Fridays are (and have been for nearly 20 years) my dedicated writing time. It’s that I needed the reminder that saying “no” for a Friday commitment is okay.

Though I’ve been writing professionally for 25 years now, it’s only been about 12 that I have freelanced full time. In my early writing career, I worked full-time and struggled to carve out writing time. After selling regularly for about 5 years, I sought out jobs that would allow me Fridays off. This way I had a long weekend every weekend to focus on my writing business. At first it was a company that allowed me to work 40 hours during 4 days (or sometimes work only a half-day on Friday). Later, I took a 32-hour-a-week job and then a half-time (20 hours per week) job.

freedomFridays have been “sacred” writing time to me. Even now, when I’m working on a client project or have a deadline, Fridays are still my “free” day. I choose the project to focus on, even if it’s only for part of the day. It’s often one of my newer projects. This keeps me motivated. (There’s something about a project in the early stages of planning and character development that recharges both my creativity and my energy.)

Recently, I’ve had a several requests to either teach or meet a client or commit to some writing-related event on a Friday. Inwardly I blanched. Outwardly I said, “I’m so sorry. That day is already booked.” But, I felt guilty. Really guilty. It’s so easy to feel the guilt trips from others weighing heavily on my shoulders. I mean, I work at home. My time is flexible. What’s the big deal about accommodating someone else’s schedule and helping him or her out?

The big deal is that if this were a job in which I had to leave my house, go to an employer’s place of business to complete my tasks, then no one would question my inability to meet with them on Fridays. This is one of the toughest things about committing to a freelance career—even from family. It seems to them so flexible, so filled with freedom to set one’s own schedule (meaning, fitting into their schedules). There are plenty of other things that are hard about freelancing. Guarding the time we work to carve out and commit to our writing goals shouldn’t be one of them.

So, with Independence Day falling on my “free” day to write, it reminded me to make a new choice. I choose not to feel guilty about guarding my freedom to write. What choices will you make? Will you carve out writing time too—and guard your freedom to write? I hope so!