Sometimes I think I do my best writing on my friend Summer Hardinge’s screen porch. As a writing workshop leader, I have long realized the importance of filling my cup by going to other leaders’ workshops. Summer and I are both Amherst Writers & Artists workshop facilitators, and we attend each other’s sessions as much as possible. But Summer has something I do not: an enormous screen porch (pictured below) that could be featured on the cover of Veranda or Southern Living. And being there, as I was yesterday, made me reflect on the role of place in writerly inspiration.
Browsing through one of my writing notebooks this morning, I found a piece on this topic that I wrote in one of Summer’s workshops back in February. It was in response to the poem “Oh Sweethearts” by Liz Berry:
"Liz Berry is a Welsh poet," she said, and I conjure a green place wet with rain and mists moving through the mountains. And I wonder if proximity to the natural world is a prerequisite for poems, whether living next door to a strip mall or a 7-Eleven might make the job more challenging, if not impossible.
I know there are those who compose to an urban beat—the thump-thump of rap music spilling from cars with smoked windows, a cacophony of car horns, the dull roar filling tunnels between skyscrapers, police sirens screaming in the distance. From this city soundscape, and from the pungent steam rising from street grates and the warm doughy aromas wafting from pretzel carts, they make their art. There is a raw, funky, electric vibe in the city that arcs into poems.
But what poetry can be found in suburbia among the big box stores—Home Depot, WalMart, Target, and Costco? The IHOPs and the Pizza Huts, with their sticky tabletops and ratty carpets? Even the tidy cul-de-sacs of brick townhouses or mini-mansions? Here there are manicured lawns and carefully cultivated shrubbery. The wild is out, the accessible is in. Two cars sit in the paved driveway and the mailman arrives in his little white truck at 3. Is there any poetry to be found here, or does it require pushing away to one extreme or the other—city or country—to pick up the elusive thread and follow it to the place where poems are born?
I’m currently reading Eric Maisel’s Secrets of a Creativity Coach. Maisel is a psychotherapist who coaches writers and artists, and has published numerous books on creativity. In this particular book, he provides a series of email exchanges with various clients who are stuck in ways large and small. I was struck by one exchange with a woman named Emily who works full time in London and is trying to finish a novel that she describes as having a “saggy middle.” She decides that she will go to a park across from her office and write for an hour before work each day. She begins by focusing on what “shit” her writing is, but over the course of a few weeks, showing up in a place she loves leads her to thinking creatively about her novel. By the end of the exchange, she is excited about her work, all because she showed up and was inspired by the landscape and activities of a favorite place.
A few simple take-away points:
It’s important to find a place to write that is supportive to your work.
If it doesn’t currently exist, find it or adjust it.
Show up on some kind of regular schedule that works for you. Don’t make it too elaborate or unrealistic, or you run the risk of letting yourself down and going away discouraged. Start small.
Keep your goal in the forefront of your mind. Know that you are working toward it every time you show up.
Success begets success. The more you show up, the happier you will be, and the more likely you are to keep going.
Many writers have talked about the places where they write, and a common theme is that it soothes and inspires; it doesn’t distract and agitate. If you want to write at home but your desk or room is a mess, take the time to fix it. If you write better in coffee shops or diners, try a different one each day until you find the right one. If you write better outdoors, start checking out the options. Just do it. Your Muse will thank you.
Do you have a favorite place to write? Please share!