Searching for the Perfect Writing Spot

Emma at the desk

There is no such thing as the perfect writing spot. We all know that. Though, I must say, granddaughter Emma looks almost perfect right where she sits at my desk. And my son, Doug, looks pretty productive, too.

Doug at my desk

There are simply writers who sit down and write. Wait around for the perfect spot and you won’t be writing much. And yet … periodically, I disrupt our whole house as I attempt to fulfill this most illusory need.

Our cabin is somewhat unconventional. Right angles and doors are rare. Open concept is taken to the limit. Finding my perfect writing space has been a challenge that is as much about my personality as it is about the house. I like a change now and then. Over the years, I have had my desks in at least eight areas of this small cabin. I’m sorry to tell you that the first few set-ups predated our time with digital cameras, so words must suffice.

Rake window - uppermost loft

I started with a small desk in the uppermost loft. We had to hoist the desk over the railing from one loft to the other since it wouldn’t go up the narrow stairs. It was years before we had installed a rake window looking out over the garden in that area. Maybe I would have stayed put if I had waited for that window. Who knows?

 

Railing that overlooks the main floor

Next, I got a larger desk and moved to the big loft, against the railing that looks down into the living room. This railing  just got a major facelift so I decided to include a photo, though my desk in that location is long gone. I was near that railing for a while. I loved the vantage point but hated how the whole mess of computer cords and the piles of books on my desk looked from below.

Soon enough, I was on the move again. We converted the dining room section of our open concept main floor into a full-fledged office with built-in bookshelves that surrounded my desk. I do wish I had a photo of that set-up for you. It was really neat. I wrote many academic papers in that space. I was productive and for me and Bruce, the loss of the dining room was no big deal. We still had our kitchen eating space. But the repurposing brought multiple complaints from all visitors who had fond memories of the large table that previously occupied the dining room and could seat a dozen in a pinch.

We reclaimed the dining room as dining room, though in the photo below, we had long since lost that huge table.

Table in dining area

Upstairs, we had knocked a door through the middle loft, so all three lofts were connected. The area on the main floor that contained a closet and the narrow staircase to the highest loft became redundant. We created a library/office space for Bruce and removed all the desks and built-in shelving from the dining room to that area. Below, you can see this is a wonderful cosy spot.

Library office

Meanwhile, I moved down to Victoria for several years to attend university. In my apartment, I had the entire dining room converted to an office. I think we ate at a small table in the living room. A lot can be deduced about an individual from the amount of space they are willing to allocate to desks.

desks in victoria

I had satellite desks at the cabin for holidays and the summer months.

desk upstairs near big window     Desk in entry

When I returned full-time to the cabin, Bruce designed a built-in desk for me in the sloping corner of the big loft. I was upstairs again! I distinctly remember writing my methodology paper for my unfinished dissertation there. But after a while, looking into a dark corner made me feel stifled. Okay for research methodology but it wouldn’t work for novel writing. Time to move again.

upstairs corner desk     Upstairs desk

I couldn’t exactly haul the built-in desk around, so I simply moved my laptop to the kitchen. The table proved to be the most fruitful writing space I have ever had. I was so productive that more and more stuff followed me down to the table and before long we barely had a spot to eat. Well, over time, that became untenable.

working at the kitchen table

I moved to the dining room again … completely central to the rest of the cabin.

2 desks sticking into the living room

A space begging for interruption. I pined for the wide-open view of the lake from the kitchen table. Thus, the era of trying to have it all began. I moved one desk up to the kitchen.

Table and 1 desk

Again, much work occurred in front of that view of lake but there were downsides. I had become a two-desk person and one of them had to stay in the dining room. I felt fractured.

Fractured - 1 desk in living room

One day, Bruce said, “Why not take over the whole kitchen eating area for your office. We’ll move the table to the dining room.” I was in heaven. I had both my desks, huge windows, an easy chair. Perfection at last. And close to the coffee pot. What more could a writer ask?

Kitchen office

The howls from visitors began anew and my guilt at commandeering such a big slice of our square footage grew. When we had guests, we had to haul all the food for every meal down to the dining room and people missed eating up in the kitchen with those wonderful views. Compromise was called for. Back to only one desk in the kitchen plus table.

Fractured again, I tried both desks plus the table. Unbelievably crowded and even I was howling.

Table and 2 desks    Crowded kitchen

Through all our back and forth with desks from dining room to kitchen, we had kept our china cabinet in the dining area. The next move saw us drag that cabinet up to the kitchen and that meant both my desks could tuck into the dining room space much more effectively and the whole open concept main floor looked cozy and sleek. We loved having the spacious kitchen back and having the china cabinet where it should have been all along. Hopefully, we told ourselves, this was the end of moving desks.

Kitchen with table & china cabinet

But not so fast. The dining room is still central – it feels like grand central to me.

Latest office

I bemoaned the fact that I had neither walls nor door and considered the solution of Les Nessman from that old sit com, WKRP in Cincinnati. Maybe I could draw where the walls should go on the floor and chalk in the door. But in my heart I knew, that would not stop distraction. Then it came to me – like a bolt of lightning – we have an underutilized space with a door. Our dormer room upstairs – the middle loft. One of the few places in this cabin I have never attempted to work. The kids use it as a playroom when they visit. There are big windows and an interesting view.

I was resolved that this would be a different sort of move for me. I had no intention of converting the dormer to an office. I love my office space right where it is. What I envisioned was a work area only big enough for my laptop. Whenever I felt the need for isolation, I could cart my laptop to the dormer, shut the door and stay put in front of the keyboard. No interruptions and no distractions.

Sitting up in the dormer, Bruce and I threw some ideas around. We have a set of built-in shelves under the window, and we decided that something designed to fit on the shelf and jut into the room slightly would suffice. Bruce rounded up a package of leftover hardwood pine flooring that had been given to us by friends after they redid their bedroom floor. He constructed this lovely little work surface with a back that holds it tightly in place under the upper shelf.

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So now, here I sit. I am writing undisturbed, enjoying the sound of the rain on the dormer roof outside the window and loving the view of the trees, multiple shades of green all around me. It’s a bit like sitting in a tree fort.

New work surface in the dormer

Hopefully, all is well that ends well. I can never say this will be my last move, but I sure enjoy the way things are now. In closing, I dedicate this post to the one who has cheerfully, (for the most part) hauled my many desks from place to place. Thank you, Bruce. As always, your support is greatly appreciated. Here’s a great photo of what Bruce was up to the other day – time to clean out that composting toilet. I bet hauling around my desks is way more fun.

Compost Toilet Haul

The Characterization of a Blog

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I’m feeling a bit reflective on this Northern Vancouver Island, mixed weather day – a patch of blue sky, snow low on the mountains, a bit of rain, a touch of wind.

I’ve been blogging for ten months and I recently put up my 100th post. If I Google my name, I find a whole world of me out in cyberspace that never existed a year ago. When I was out tramping the wet trails in the rain and cold yesterday, thinking about the blog, an analogy came to me. The blog has become like a character in one of my novels. It is me – yes (even more so for the blog than any of the characters I have brought to life), but at the same time it has become more than me. It’s now a fully formed, three-dimensional character out in the world. If I listen closely, the blog has a voice and it isn’t always what I would call my voice. It has a personality that has gone beyond me.

Before the reader begins to think I’ve take leave of my senses, consider what Paul Ricoeur has to say about the act of fixing anything in text – it is the beginning of the text’s journey away from the meanings the original author may have intended. The text is freed from the one who created it and the time and context in which it was created and enters the field of interpretation. I’ve written about this before – the idea that the writer writes – the reader interprets. Neither controls the process of the other. Once in the hand of the reader, the text takes on a life of its own that is beyond what the writer may have intended. Over time, with an accretion of text out in the world, the blog has entered into its own life. Part me, part readers, part who knows what.

At about that stage in my thoughts of yesterday, the wind and rain picking up and even the dog starting to lose enthusiasm with the idea of a walk, I had an aha moment – as the creator of this blog/character, I owe it a level of consistency. The blog cannot begin to act in ways that the readers would not find fitting to the character they have come to know and maybe even care about. If it does, there better be a darn good explanation or the reader will not be stopping by again.

For example (this is in no way a judgement of others who have created a character for their blog that is different from what I have set loose in the world – vive le difference, as the French would say) my blog wouldn’t start putting up advertisements. I know WordPress can do this and our only alternative is to pay them to stop, but this blog wouldn’t willingly participate in third-party advertising. By the same token, the blog would never begin a campaign asking readers for money. That would not be consistent with the character the readers have come to know. The blog would not start to scream vitriolic into cyberspace related to current events, people, places or lifestyles. It would not, out of the blue, give the readers a sampling of x-rated content – they wouldn’t be prepared for such behaviour and the blog has no right to take them by surprise.

This blog, much like any of the characters I have created, strives to speak with a consistent voice. The reader should not be thrown for a loop without a good explanation, or be nagged by loose threads.

Not to say that the blog should get stagnant – there needs to be character development over a story arc. No dull blogs or interesting character/blogs caught up in dull life events – to quote Alfred Hitchcock, “A great story is life with the dull parts taken out.”

I’ll throw out a good research term here as well as a personal opinion – a blog worth sticking with should have validity, which simply means the reader deems the content plausible, credible, and trustworthy. The blog, like any good character, will rarely say things exactly as the reader would – but the voice should still make sense.

Enough reflection – perhaps the weather will be a little less wet at walk time today. I know the dog would appreciate that.

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A rare view of the cabin from the water. Maybe you can just see me through the window with the light, sitting by the kitchen table writing while the fire in the wood stove decides to smoke away in a crazy fashion, totally ruining this photo. Well, at least in Bruce’s opinion. I say it is totally plausible.