The Last Word
I just don't get it. You see them in Mocha Mott's, in Espresso Love, in those off-Island dens of caffeine and conversation where techno music blares or indie bands vibrate through the strategically placed speakers designed to let the staff hear their music and the clientele shout over the noise. Writers. Writers with hands pressed to foreheads in obvious concentration over yellow legal pads or laptops. Writers - apparently - working. How do they do it? How do they shut out the noise, pals walking in and wanting to catch up, the constant flow of interruptions unavoidable and voluntary by putting themselves in such a public space?
Back in the day, when I first got serious about writing, I had a little corner of our den where I'd set up my Collegiate, a computer so limited I had to boot up with diskettes (remember those) every time I got started. Basically, a box with a screen and no brain. My little Collegiate and I got along quite well, and I was soon tapping out my first published novel at night long after the little kiddies were abed and the husband tinkering with his own projects. By plugging in headphones and listening over and over to Brahms 7th I, innocent of actually knowing how to write a novel, wrote one. I had my space and my quiet and could fall deep into the "dream" as John Gardner called it, waking after a couple of hours of prolonged concentration as if from a restful sleep.
For me it is critical, and I think for most writers, or anyone working out of her brain, to have a dedicated space for creativity. I can't speak for all kinds of writing, but, for me, fiction writing requires a certain amount of theatre. Of reading out loud, of spreading out dictionaries and research, bits of manuscript with hand-written changes like acrostic puzzles. I need to leave my mess where it is.
As the family matured, my den space had to be shared to accommodate other people's work, so I moved to the recently added sunroom - a room with glass doors through which the sound of the television in the next room and the compelling flicker of the screen distracted me. And the kids were no longer in bed at eight. It also lacked heat. Hmmm. Not quite the Room of My Own that I needed, but I tapped out a couple more novels and adjusted my hours and plugged in a heater. As I sat hunched over my first laptop, a tiny thing with a keyboard so eensy I had to attach a regulation sized keyboard to it, I would suddenly have the feeling that I wasn't alone. Slowly I turned. "Uh, Mom, Dad won't let me..." fill in the blank.
My husband took pity on me and built me a space of my own, a shed in the back yard with exactly enough space to work, to pace (a little) to talk out loud, spread my pages on the floor or tack them to the wall, and to be safe from the distractions of ordinary life with a family. Perfect. Inviolable (unless someone was bleeding.) Another book emerged. Then another.
Then I noticed something. The distractions in my house were gone. Grown up. What was I doing out in a shed when my house boasted two empty bedrooms? Gradually, I found myself setting up the most recent laptop (a creature so advanced from the old Collegiate as to not be from the same species) in the "guest room." Once I learned how to (mostly) ignore the telephone, I was getting as much work done as isolated in my shed - and the bathroom was so much more convenient.
Sixteen years ago I longed for the quiet, for endless and undistracted hours in which to work. The thought of being able to write undisturbed was like imagining plunging into the soft salt sea when suffering from heat stroke. And, as sometimes it happens, the wishing for is sweeter than the having. Now I have no excuse for mind-wandering. No outside forces preventing concentration. No voices pulling me out of the dream to ask why they can't have a sleepover.
So, maybe I should head down to Mott's.
To the Reader
Speaking of Myspace, this column space has been graciously lent to me by the Times to fill with thoughts and observations on the writing life. Not a "Books" column, but a commentary column encompassing the subject of writing, from language to what's going on in the book world. I'm very excited to join the ranks of The Times' wonderful columnists and hope that readers will enjoy The Last Word...
Susan Wilson lives in Oak Bluffs. She is the author of five published novels and is working on her sixth. She also freelances, specializing in equine topics. Her column will appear on the OpEd Page twice monthly. Ms. Wilson can be reached at email@example.com or at her web site: www.susanwilsonwrites.com.