How I Spent 6 Years Writing For A Room

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.

I found myself a stranger in my own life.

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.

I worked in the janitor’s closet for three years.

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 writing for the room.

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.

25 thoughts on “How I Spent 6 Years Writing For A Room

  1. I enjoyed this story. I also admire the fact that you’ve written two novels, even if they are unpublished.

    I have read different opinions about having a “room” or devoted space for writing. A lot of it seems to focus on:

    a) eliminating distractions
    b) avoiding procrastination
    c) creating a mindset to facilitate the writing process

    In all three cases, having a devoted writing space appears to be a motivational technique as much as anything else. Does that make sense to you?

    Mark Dykeman’s last blog post..Blogging is communication first monetization second

  2. Thanks, Mark.

    I think it cuts both ways. If you maintain a ruthless focus on the purpose of the space, a studio can definitely be a motivating factor. It’s when you begin to think of the studio as something other than a place to work that it begins to have a negative impact on your productivity.

    For example, I would recommend that writers:

    a. Do not keep a couch in their studio.
    b. Do not put pictures on the walls.
    c. Do not store anything other books except dictionaries and immediate reference materials in the studio.
    d. Do not have Internet access installed.

    I’ve done all four things and as a result my studio is a totally awesome place to hang out… So awesome that I find it difficult to focus on doing my actual writing.

  3. Looking around my “studio,” I find that I have a daybed, pictures on the wall, books everywhere and internet access.

    Looks like I’ll need to claim the bathroom as my writing spot.

  4. LOL, Karen. 🙂

    Have you ever written a the bathroom? I have to admit that I’ve done it more than once. Like writing on an airplane in some ways, but without the free peanuts and the turbulence.

  5. I’ve never had a studio, so I’m not sure if it would help or hinder. Now is the best I’ve had, and it’s a corner of the bedroom with the computer desk and bookshelves filled with reference books belonging to both Hubby and me. Although, I learned last night, sometimes just taking the old rough draft notebook to the bare kitchen desk tends toward more productivity, even with a 23-month-old playing under the desk and supper on the stove. 🙂

    I can see what you mean about writing becoming the excuse to hide away for a while though. It’s like a mom ducking into the bathroom with a novel for five or ten minutes without having her shirt tugged on by preschoolers wanting a cookie just before supper. Sometimes you just need a break, and one convenient excuse is as good as another.

  6. @AB Stephen King wrote Carrie in the laundry room (pretty sure that’s right), so I think there’s something to be said for working in tight/shared spaces. I totally concur on the notebook and kitchen table approach. I’ve written some of my best stuff while baking scones at 4AM. (mmm. scones)

    @Karen I get incredibly wrinkly while soaking in the bathtub, but good ideas come when I’m in the shower. Maybe I should write while standing up?

  7. Okay. Dude? This was a sad story. I don’t like sad stories, because they make me… melancholy. And that’s not good for my Muse and all. She likes happy people and fandoration, not melancholy.

    I want to have a room. I want to have an OFFICE room where it feels like an office. Work, production… a nice place but not enough to hang out in. Clean. Corporate.

    Actually, I *have* an office. My daughter took it over and the floor is littered with toys that I valiantly try to pick up every so often only to have disaster 15 minutes later. It’s bright, sunny and beautiful.

    My *desk* – which is not in my office, you’ll note – is in the middle of our living room. Right in the traffic zone at the door to the kitchen, in fact.


    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..Website Content: Are You Turning Readers Off?

  8. @James Seems to me writers are the worst at letting go, so I was hoping that by sharing my experience I might help others learn to move on from bad situations.

    However, I suppose working in a janitor’s closet for three years is a bit sad, but it was the kickin’est janitor’s closet around!

    I agree that a clean and corporate office is the way to go. I can’t imagine working here in my house. In fact, I am hiding in my bedroom right now while my boys are tear apart the living room before bedtime.

    I’ll have a happy post later in the week about dealing with rejection. No, seriously, it’s a happy, positive post.

    See, here’s a smiley to prove it-> 🙂

  9. Lies… all lies!

    Writers are emotional creatures by nature – they love feeling. (Don’t ask me why.) Makes sense that they cling, even to bad habits.

    As for kids… yeah, I hear you. I get 5 hours of peace during weekdays, but the rest of the time is somewhat of a compromise. I’ve become very good at filtering noise.

    Like Dora.

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..Website Content: Are You Turning Readers Off?

  10. Now see, that’s when it’s nice to turn off hearing aids. The kids may be hollering at each other, the washing machine on spin cycle, the dog barking at a rabbit fifty yards away–one flick of the switch–presto, peace and quiet. Something to be thankful for.

  11. @James You know… whenever I write “for whatever reason” or “don’t ask me why” I end up digging for the answer and fill another journal. Want to tell Uncle Jamie all about it? DM me. 😉

    @Karen My wife uses an ipod. I think the bed is more comfortable.

  12. Great post Jamie! And great blog too. Subscribed and will be coming back.

    I write each morning in our office, so I have a room of my own I suppose. But the “desk” is a folding table and I write on a 13-inch MacBook (great) with no external monitor and, thus, am in a terrible ergonomic setup (not so great). Until I read this post, I think I had been pining for a better setup in our next house.

    And now that I’ve read this, I think about the short stories I’ve written here, and the progress I’ve made on my novel and am realizing that it was, in no way, made better or worse by the ad-hoc setup in my room. All that matters has been the writing itself. That’s good.

    Thanks for the great thoughts.

    Brandon Satrom’s last blog post..Symbols of Redemption – Part 3

  13. I write in bed with my laptop, with a ton of distractions. Bird squawking, cat plotting the bird’s death, radio on, boyfriend jumping from lap steel to pedal steel to accordion tuned to C to accordion tuned to G and then on to the piano – all during the first half of one song. When boyfriend is writing too, he paces from one end of our tiny apartment to the other. Sometimes, he stands just above me, pondering something deeply. But I HAVE to look up. I always think he’s standing there waiting for me to stop typing so that he can ask me something. He never is. He’s just thinking about something else.

    He’s been writing professionally for more than 30 years. I have been published once, in 1986 in Printed Circuit Board Design magazine. haha! He is astounded by how much I write, by the volume, and the quality. So, now that we’ve established that I’m no pro, I will say this…it is ALL about Butt In Seat With Fingers Typing (or pen-wielding). BISWFT 🙂

    I know that the more I write, the sharper my skills, the better chance of publication.

    Oh…and I think my secret for being unbothered by distractions is from the practice of meditation. If I work on it, I can be focused and centered within a tornado…which is a good way to describe my life.

  14. @OMW BISWFT! Love it!

    Sometimes writing faster with tons of distractions helps focus the mind on the moment. Some of the best writing I’ve ever done has happened under the least conducive of circumstances.

  15. Hi

    I just found your blog and thankyou, thankyou! 🙂

    I am/was an academic, and now … an aspiring writer, albeit previously published, as a ‘ghost’! I struggle to write now, or ‘rebegin’ my writings. I dream of the day of transforming the nearly 15 years of journals into something worth reading.

    I read stories and novels in my dreams – and I think with surprise, ‘hmmm, if I just “read that novel in my dreams”, this must mean I wrote it too!!” 🙂

    Yet I procrastinate and talk about it, plagued by perfectionism and writers blocks – but, then again, do I even get to that ‘block’ phase! Much of my procrastination or escape is, yes, through the ‘perfect’ setup of my writing ‘room’ and office/studio – my studio creation – which must be just ‘perfect’ in order to manifest the perfect creations!

    Oh, the ingenious deployment of such procrastination tactics! Get over it and just write!

    I truly loved and related to your article about writing for a ‘room’.

    Thank you again … I am only ‘discovering’ the writing world online, and grateful to have found your site, as I have been held hostage (?) by the internet marketing realms…

    … a freelance writer shall I be? A published author shall I be? who is to know, for now, just a shabby hobby hobby bobby blog! A PhD I do have – yet it maketh no difference … until I ‘bl… get head down and b.. up’!

    hehe 🙂

    Thank you. I have subscribed and hope to be back soon.
    You are certainly a talented writer and I look forward to reading more!

    Kind Regards
    Megan (Meg)

    Megan McCarthy’s last blog post..Are you having a bad day? Free Audio

  16. @Meg Thanks for the great comment! I’m glad to hear you liked this post. I know what it’s like to try and transform the great heaps of journaling that pile up over the years. My journal is just over 2 million words, a ponderous thing it is too. 🙂

  17. This was a great post! I’ve only recently discovered you @twitter and here.

    I’m jealous that you had the ability to “drop in the zone” at a moment’s notice. My current lifestyle has many free odd moments, but the concrete blocks of time are hardest to schedule. More often than not, I make notes in my journal in odd moments, but then when I go back to them they make little or no sense.

  18. @Deb Thanks so much for the kind words. It’s taken a lot of practice, but I find that if I rev up with 100-150 words I can stop thinking and start writing. For me, the key is speed. If I slow down long enough to think, my own thoughts start shouting louder than the characters. 🙂

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