If you can get over the economic challenges inherent to being a writer, which I’ve raved on about in other blogs, and if you can actually find some time to put into your creative writing after you’ve finished that study you need to do in order to get a real job, or you’ve finished paying the bills with a zillion other jobs like corporate writing or washing cars or serving coffees because that Grant Application was close but no cigar, in fact it wasn’t even the butt-end of a cigarette sent flying by a Collins Street dentist too rich to bother caring about his own teeth because he can replace them with a set carved from the ivory of an elephant he hunted down on his latest South African safari, then you might face the problem of finding a space to write.
Take my current writing digs: my teenage daughter has moved out to live entirely with her mother, which has left her space as the great Narnian Spare Room in our house. But as I write this, my pre-schooler has discovered an old party blowhorn thing … oh, and now my wife has walked in asking for ten dollars from my wallet to pay for the swimming lesson she is thankfully going to take him to in a few minutes because those horn blasts are getting louder and now, oh, my wife’s back saying she’s not sure ten dollars will cover it, can she get some more? My pre-schooler is blasting that horn double-time and a half, my wife has called out to him “Let’s go” five times as she’s hunted for swimming gear and now, finally, the door slams and I can get back to writing this piece about needing somewhere to bloody write!
Trying to find a quiet space to write has been a problem for writers for centuries. Virginia Woolf hunted for that room of her own; Raymond Carver tried to get some time away from his family in the nooks and crannies of his house; Australian poet Bruce Dawe gave up and just wrote his poems at the family kitchen table, regardless of blowhorns or swimming lesson shortfalls. And poet Gerard Manley Hopkins did all his writing in a monastery. Which seems, sometimes, to be the most sensible course of action. You don’t have to pay bills and you can write all you want between your religious duties. Only problem for Gerard was that his religious vows meant he couldn’t send any of his poems out for publication during his lifetime. But at least he got to write them.
Despite all my complaining, the truth is that while my dream writing space (the landline is ringing now!!) is a palatial home on the coast with a view of the sea where I can write whatever I want all day because my break-out, sell-out novel A Thousand Shades of Vampires was so mind-dumbingly successful that I can do that, I need different kinds of spaces for different kinds of writing. So what I’m saying is, I’ll make do until I get my dream space (I’d settle for a modestly priced quiet space anywhere at the moment, but I’ve had no luck).
Sometimes poems or lines for them emerge just as sleep’s hauling me in. So a writing pad and my doona becomes my space. I was flat out with children’s commitments, paid jobs, forms to fill out and sick people to visit a few weeks ago, so in the space between grabbing food for a sandwich for my younger son and handling my elder son’s school forms, I wrote on the notes function of my phone the all-important opening paragraphs of a piece that wouldn’t stop nagging to be written about my daughter leaving home (that space worked: the piece is soon to appear in The Age’s Sunday Life).
I find space in libraries, university study spaces, on trains, or by speaking notes hands-free into the phone while I’m driving. I jot on buses. I tap on trains. When I have no space to write, space must still be found. So I’m guessing that while physical, mental and emotional space are important to get that uncluttered feeling that can lead to writing, sometimes the endless clutter of life is the space in which we find ourselves writing. And we have to find space within that, whether at the desk or snorkelling. But, I’ve got to admit, the last paragraphs of this piece were so much easier to write due to the fact that horn blower was off snorkelling his way through his swimming lesson.
He’ll be back soon. And I have to look after him for the rest of the day. We’re going shopping and to the park. Notes function will be at the ready in case that writing space emerges.
Paul Mitchell is a past Going Down Swinging contributor and features in issues No. 19–No. 23, No. 28 and No. 30. Paul’s books are Dodging the Bull (short fiction), Awake Despite the Hour and Minorphysics (both poetry).
Photo used under Creative Commons by Star Man Series (Flickr)