While sitting at my local Barnes and Noble café yesterday, waiting as my daughter and a friend wandered the mall corridors in search of teen treasures, I got to thinking about how my writing place has changed over time. And by “writing place,” I don’t mean a state of mind, like “happy place.” Rather I refer to the physical locations that, more often than not, we find conducive to focused spells of creative productivity.
As a matter of fact, I once spent a lot of writing time at BN, though at not this particular location. A mere ten years ago, the store stood across the highway from the mall, in a stand-alone building. The café there embodied a more intimate vibe: busy, though not swamped; and populated chiefly with bookstore patrons, rather than people grabbing a Frappuccino or six on their way between the clothing boutiques and the parking lot. I don’t really begrudge BN for its new digs in the mall though. From a business standpoint it was a wise and necessary decision. And I still buy a lot of books from them. But I’ve also tried to write in its elevated, stage-like café space, and it’s not at all the same. I can’t hold my concentration amid the bustle. It’s too bad in a way, since I wrote the entire first draft of my novel manuscript in the old place.
Prior to BN, I was a restaurant-based writer. This would’ve been during the 1980s and early ‘90s—when I still wrote drafts in longhand and didn’t have to base my location on its proximity to electrical outlets. I had also read Hemingway’s highly-embellished memoir, A Moveable Feast, so many times by then I could recite passages by rote; thus I was indoctrinated to the notion that writing and food were inextricably linked. For a long time, I preferred the local diners and short-order joints, where the fare was homey and plentiful, and cups of coffee, per establishment policy, were bottomless. Potential character models were also plentiful in these writing places—especially among the regulars, who occupied the same stools along the counter areas for years on end. Diners were always great for eavesdropping too. The patrons were less self-conscious, it seemed, far more likely to say precisely what came into their heads. If you want to hear colloquial banter par excellence, check out your neighborhood diner.
In recent years, I’ve adopted a gaudy-patterned chair in the front room of my own home as a writing place. I’m sitting there now, in fact. For ease of use, I purchased a lap desk—ironically, at Barnes and Noble—for my HP notebook, the device which now processes nearly every word that I write. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I bought a paper notebook for my own use. And I barely pick up a pen anymore, except to write checks at bill time.
No matter, the living room chair and lap desk have worked wonders for me, just as the other writing environments have worked along the span of my creative life. And like those former hotspots, the efficacy of this one will eventually diminish too. Already, in fact, I’ve noticed my back aching a little more than it did initially, chipping away at my concentration. It might be advancing age—I did just surpass fifty, after all. Or it may be the angle at which I sit in the chair, something a minor ergonomic adjustment would address.
But just as likely, it’s my own body telling me that the energy is once again shifting to another locale, and the time to break camp and follow the Muse is imminent. And so the odyssey will continue, as probably it should.