a chamber of screams of one's own

I wrote my first novel (which will not be my first published novel) at various coffee shops and public libraries throughout Colorado Springs. I did the first major revisions on it at a friend's house in western Pennsylvania, during a month-long visit in a cold, rainy spring. I wrote sitting at her kitchen table or curled up on the guest bed while she was at work, and in the afternoon I would take her dog for a walk through the damp, muddy woods.

That's the same place where I got an idea for the second novel I wrote (which will not be my second published novel), and where I borrowed a great many details--house, woods, my friend's job as a rural veterinarian--but I didn't write that novel there. I wrote it back home, in the coffee shops and libraries in Colorado Springs, or sitting on my bed in my sister's basement with my computer on my lap and black widow spiders outside the window.

Those coffee shops and libraries also where I wrote my third (which will, in fact, be my first published) and fourth (second published) and fifth (still revising!) novels.

One day I went into the High Prairie branch of the Pikes Peak Library District--which is lovely and cozy but doesn't have very many tables for working--and a man I did not know and in fact had never seen before quickly gathered his things and said to me, "I'm sorry! I'll let you have your table now." I was a regular. I had a table.

Now I mostly write at this IKEA desk, looking out the window at a bird-of-paradise tree filled with hummingbirds and bees and spider webs. Sometimes, when I need a change of scenery, or when it's too hot to work in my un-air conditioned apartment, I walk to the coffee shop with a pen and notebook in my purse. I go to one that's about a twenty minute walk, past four or five perfectly nice other options, because I like to have that extra time to think before I sit down to work. I think that's where I'm a regular now.


A common piece of writing advice that gets passed around is that you should be able to write anywhere, under any circumstances. Don't be too picky about your setup, your table, your room, your notebook, your pen. Stephen King wrote in his laundry room! You should be able to write in your laundry room too!

That's ridiculous, of course. Not that you shouldn't be able to write in Stephen King's laundry room--whatever works, man, just maybe like ask first or something--but that Real Writers Shouldn't Care.

Obviously you should care. Writing is work, and like any kind of work there are environments that are good for doing it, and there are environments that are bad for doing it. Quiet: good. Screaming children: bad. Plugs for laptops: good. Space to have your coffee and your pastry beside you: good.

Tragic lack of air conditioning on hot summer days: bad. (Today. I am talking about today. Curse you, San Diego. Curse you soundly and with great vigor.)

Functional writing tools besides sticks scraped through your own blood: good.

Complete absence of creepers trying to talk to you in spite of your headphones: good.

Swarming bees: bad.


That doesn't mean it's easy, finding a good place to work--or, for that matter, a good time. Desk. Kitchen table. Before work. After work. Library. During lunch. Café. During work. Trains, planes, and automobiles. Vacations. Park bench. Weekends. Bed. Late at night. You can't separate space and time, or so Mr. Einstein tells us. 

I once met a woman who told me she very much wanted to find time and space to work on her novel, but she couldn't retreat to a quiet room to write in the evenings because her husband wanted her to watch TV with him in the living room.

I still wonder sometimes what he was watching that he thought was so much more important than his wife's novel. More important than her art, her passion, her dreams.

(It was probably Game of Thrones.)


I also wrote the majority of my PhD thesis at a coffee shop. It was easier to concentrate there than in the grad student office, and besides I got to overhear delightful nuggets of tourist conversations, such as the man who complained loudly and earnestly that nobody had warned him there were going to be quite so many mountains on this family vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park.

I can barely remember what my thesis was titled--Something Something Tibet Something Earthquakes Give Me My Degree Oh God Please Something--but I remember that guy and how betrayed he was, how outraged, being surprised by all those mountains.


Everybody's life is a puzzle with a thousand different pieces to put together, and nobody else can tell you how those pieces are supposed to fit. For some people writing is going to be the corner pieces that have to be set before anything else can work; for other it's going to be those annoying lookalike green pieces that just sit to the side until the very end and only ever get placed because that one has a funny shape that makes it look like a fat dancing man.

The vast majority of writers are going to fall somewhere in between. You have to decide for yourself. Nobody else can tell you how to sort out your priorities. Nobody else can tell you where in space and time writing is supposed to fit.

Maybe writers don't all need entire rooms of their own--although that sure would be nice, and think of the bookshelves! the posh leather chairs! the desks with sweeping inspirational views!--but it does help to have a boundary, a fence, a line not to be crossed, whether physical or purely mental. A way to say, "Here and now is where I write, and that means I am not doing nothing else, and woe unto those who attempt to make it otherwise."  

An electrified psychic barrier, if you will. 

Covered with spikes. Poisonous spikes. Poisonous spikes made of teeth.

So I guess if I had to offer a suggestion for finding your writing space, that would be it:

Build an entire room made out of spiky poisonous teeth and fill it with coffee and the blood of tourists and/or people who think watching Game of Thrones is more important than writing. Enter your realm of power and let the words flow.