I know some people have romantic ideas about studios. At least, I did when I first decided to get one.
For the last six years, I’ve maintained a writing studio, a room of my own where I can create without boundaries. I wrote a novel in my studio and many short stories. I worked on other types of art there too, rediscovering a long forgotten talent for drawing.
But now, it’s time to go…
Before I Got My First Studio
I used to have a hectic job that included intense periods of overseas travel. Because of my travels, I essentially missed an entire year of my son’s life. I lost contact with friends. My mother passed away while I was abroad. My wife and I drifted apart.
When I realized just how far things had gone, I took action. I changed jobs and dropped down several rungs on the ladder. It was a relief and I firmly believe the change saved my marriage and my life.
Yet even with all the craziness of those years, I always had time to write. I wrote in hotel lobbies and cafes, in airports and on airplanes (I still have miles I may never use). I worked on drafts during deadly boring meetings.
Many people who do shift work learn to go to sleep at a moment’s notice. They have to in order to survive. My writing was like that – survival – and I could drop into the zone in half a second.
Returning to a more normal life, I found that I’d lost all the pockets where I used to write. I no longer had the snatches of time where I could write as I pleased. I learned that if I wanted to write, I’d have to make the time to do it. I began by going to coffee shops, but they didn’t open early enough or seemed too crowded. It was strange because I’d written in some of the busiest places you could imagine, but now I’d somehow lost the ability to drop into the zone. I thought perhaps it was the familiarity of my surroundings, so I decided to isolate myself by getting a studio.
The First Studio
My first studio was a converted janitor’s closet. No kidding.
The room was 5×7, enough room for a desk, a chair, and a very small sofa. There were no windows, and both restrooms for the building were just on the other side of the one “long” wall. Since the walls and doors were paper thin, I eventually learned the footsteps of most of the people in the building. I’ll spare you the details about the other things I heard and how easily I could place a sound with a face.
During those three years, I wrote my second novel. It was arguably better than the first, written some seven years prior, but still pretty awful. I wasn’t deterred. When the book was done, I opened a new file and started on the next.
When the lease ran out on the janitor’s closet (it sounds ridiculous, I know), I decided I wanted to treat myself to a window and maybe fewer auditory distractions. A building just down the street had just what I was looking for and I went in on a larger space with a writing friend.
The Second Studio
I worked incredibly hard in the second studio, but I found that I was making less progress. The novel I started in the first studio died a grizzly death. I started and stopped several projects. I sputtered and fizzled out.
I suppose I’m making it sound a little worse than it was. I did manage to write several short stories. I also blogged the whole time. But these were writing activities I’d done for years and not what I considered the main event: I was trying to become a novelist.
It’s Not About the Room.
It wasn’t until this past summer that I realized how much time I’d spent agonizing over my work in that room. I felt guilty about the money I was spending and the paltry output. I felt guilty about the time I was spending away from my family and not seeing the breakthroughs I so desperately wanted. Then suddenly, it became so clear…
I was more proud of having achieved the possession of the studio than I was of the work I created within its walls. I wasn’t writing because I wanted to. I was writing because I wanted to hide in the room. The writing had become an excuse to go to the room.
I quit writing for a good part of the summer. I’ve written about that here before, so I won’t dwell on it. Let me just say that break taught me that I had plenty of stories that wanted to be told and that the room wasn’t what I needed.
The Next Studio
When I got back to writing last fall, I took a new approach to my work. I can’t say I’ve been more productive in terms of volume, or even a better writer for that matter, but the sense of what my work is about has become clearer.
At the end of June, I’ll be moving out of my current studio and I’ve decided not to take another lease. It was a difficult decision to make, as it would be for any artist. We create many memories in rooms like this and they are difficult to leave behind. Even the bad ones.
I’m sure that some day I’ll find myself back in a room of my own and when I do I’ll have a better idea of why I’m really there.