Friday, January 7, 2011

Where I Write, How I Write

I might as well post a nude photo of myself. Showing my space is really an act of total exposure. And you know you feel voyeuristic about it, too; I do when others let me look in on their creative spaces.

Spurred on by Dee's post on writing tips at Red Dirt Ramblings, I give you my small 10x10' writing space that is far too warm any time of the year with the door shut (and shut it must be).



[The book shelf in the corner behind the red chair (the red chair I sat on as a kid in the living room) holds all the books I'm reading for my next memoir on Oklahoma, the Great Plains environment, Mennonite migration, and Native Americans in Oklahoma Territory. Anything on the floor is related to classes I'm teaching. That's my system.]



[Last summer's newest book shelf, which my wife and I stained in the garage (big mistake), and which was filled within 10 minutes of being moved into the office. I still have enough books to fill 1-2 more of these shelves. Someday--a library with two-story built ins and a fireplace, and a desk the size of a buffet table. Nota bene: this is about as clean as my office gets.]

I don't have any writing advice, other than don't do it. Unless you enjoy all manner of self torture. See, I'm a perfectionist. Not in the first draft stage (which is suicide), but in editing and research. Editing is where the real writing happens, and that's where all the joy and hope of the first draft crashes against the rocky shore of the inner critic, where rejoicing rises and dips into the deepest dispair, then ricochets to Mount Olympus, then down we go again.... I used to have a bad inner critic that simply said, "You are God, you rock." Now it says, "Push it, push it harder, go deeper, come on, don't settle for that, you know you can do it better, stop whimping out you patsy, good grief."

Dee says the inner critic can, most of the time, be a bad thing. I agree only when we're talking about beginnings. But that critic must be honed, sharpened, and tuned to a fine pitch so the writing really happens and works, and this means lots and lots and lots of second guessing, hopelessness, and head banging on the table. It means ecstatic, orgasmic excitement (best feeling in the world, can't even describe it to you). It also obviously means mood swings, which are necessary to finding the way out of the word maze and realizing potential.

Looky here, this post is turning into a bit of tyrade. There's the romantic, cliched idea of a writer or artist--and to a certain degree it's spot on. But like any profession, peserverance and raw passion (and raw talent to begin with) is the only thing that gets you through--and it does get you through, eventually, kind of like Exlax.

It's important to have your own writing space. I was recently reading another blog where the author said it's disirable, but not essential to have one, and yet if you don't have that space it's nearly impossible to work.

I need silence. I need complete silence within a 50 foot, three dimensional radius. I need hours of uninterrupted time. I "joke" with my wife that I need a red "On Air" light outside the door so she knows when I'm really in a groove and need as much distance and stillness as possible. (Does that make me a bad person? I've lived my life thinking my need for silence and solitude makes me bad, and I carry this guilt around, it festers, it makes me angry and leads me to feeling placeless and ungrounded, uncomfortable, on edge, out of my body. No one befriends a person like me.)

After I write I need 30-60 minutes to cool down alone before I can re-enter the world. Sometimes I surf the net, or stare out the window or at the ceiling. It's the same as in the garden, I think. Planting, inspecting, working, I need time to sit back and leave the garden while I'm still in it. I don't know what this all says about me, artists, or introverts, but there you go. We're all so immensley complex when we're alive, and then we die and are reduced to hardly an echo, open to other people's interpretations and memories and suppositions, all as fluid and dynamic as this moment here, writing and reading, alone but impossibly on display, on stage, dissected, probed, judged, and felt up (emotionally felt up, willingly violated).

22 comments:

Heather said...

Your office photos made me smile.
I don't feel so bad about my not so tidy space. I have a large antique bookcase overflowing with books that I expect some day I'll find has crashed through the floor and into the basement.

I wish for the silence too but my 5 year old office companion (read canine) is an extremely loud snorer, especially in the afternoon after our midday walks.

Heather

Randy Emmitt said...

Benjamin,
Less cluttered than Meg's small 9 x 9 office. I built in two bookcases on two of the walls. She has 124 ft of shelf space and it is way overflowing with books and papers! Keep it up you never know, what may become of your writing.

scottweberpdx said...

I don't think you should feel any guilt if that's the environment you need to write. It can be hard for others to empathize with someone who has such a singular passion, or purpose. You can only hope the end result is worthy of the effort :-)

Susan in the Pink Hat said...

Exlax will get you through. Eventually.

Best ad line this side of Mad Men, at least for my twisted world view.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for letting us see the space and for your take on the writing process.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Heather--I always worry about the floor, too. Will all these books crash down on to my wife reading int he basement? Maybe she'd like all those books?
Randy--I have a project for you....
Scott--Hope is a wicked, mean thing. And not enough. Defiance is something I personaly feed off of more, if that makes sense.
Susan--Glad to be of service, though Mad Men bores me to tears.
Sandy--Uh oh, I hear tone of sarcasm in that note. Or not?

Sandy Longhorn said...

Oh no, I didn't intend sarcasm at all!!! Sorry for the miscue.

compost in my shoe said...

There will never be enough bookshelf space......ever. Thanks for sharing your space!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Sandy--It's more likely my miscues since I'm a wee bit sarcastic myself, and read it everywhere.
Compost--Yes, never!!! I just got a kindle, but can't imagine buying even 10% of my books for it (I imagien the device more as a pdf and doc reader).

Layanee said...

I do think you brave to show the writing area. Mine is often such a mess I don't know how I get things done...well, come to think of it, I don't get much done. On a quest to fix up this office.

Helen @ Gardening With Confidence said...

You are brave to show us your writing area...as was Dee; but I like it. H.

Victoria said...

Your bookcase looks just Dee's! Don't feel guilty about needing solitude. I come from a family of extroverts and when I say I need time to myself, they think that's the cue to come round and "keep me company".
I expect my job (newspaper office) is a bit like your job (university), in that all day long I am surrounded by other people, most of whom spend most of the day talking, either to me or to each other.
You wouldn't expect an artist or a musician to work while students or reporters or colleagues were milling around gossiping and asking inane questions, so why do people find it so difficult to accept that writers need mental space as well?
I think the most difficult thing is that those we love assume that we can't possibly mean them when we express a need for solitude in order to create something. But yes, we do!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Layanee--I bless you on your quest. Fare thee well young maiden.
Helen--I'm glad someone likes it. I don't. :)
Victoria--Yes, too much noise all day long, too much talking, too much interaction and performing. Teaching is a passion for me, but passions are very draining, like writing. I get so very tired after writing, as I bet you do. At night after school I don't want to say one word for hours--my own mind is plenty loud enough rehashing the day! :)

Wendy said...

Thanks for sharing this! That red chair must be quite the magical thinking chair. That's great that you have it from your childhood. I like the idea of an "on air" sign. In my house, the quiet doesn't happen until after 11pm or so - then I have tiredness to deal with...

I've been trying to start a writing project recently. I've never been a procrastinator, but I'm finding that I'm spending an inordinate amount of time "organizing", outlining, etc. and I think it's basically coming down to a fear of getting started. Odd for me, but that's what's going on.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Wendy--I've had that problem, when to let go of the familiarity of research. I think you know when to do so, and it seems liek you're there. When I wrote my last manuscript, all the research made me confident so the writing was better, but that fear fo teh first draft is massive--that first draft is the hardest thing to do in the writing process, I think. Editing is so much more fun, and where the real writing occurs.

Indoor Fountains said...

As a songwriter I can certainly understand your plight and the vascilation between thinking youire a God and trash!!

*serendipity* said...

I am terrified for when I venture into the "real world" once I graduate from college (god willing I pass your class). Not because of finding a job (however frightening the prospect) or a place, whatever - mostly because I'm scared of what my "writing space" will look like!

Brilliant post, I look forward to reading more.

Benjamin Vogt said...

IF--I don't think I'm god anymore, but trash, often.
S--You'll pass, Sarah. The real world is a slow shedding of college skin, that's all.

Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings said...

Benjamin, I never realized your wrote this. Your bookcase does just look like mine. See, about the inner critic, he/she is wrong during rough drafts. I also agree he/she must be honed for an honest appraisal after that first draft is finished. When I review it, I slash it.

Write on Benjamin, write on.~~Dee

Benjamin Vogt said...

Dee--Honest and brutal appraisal that doesn't beat around the bush. I had a poetry prof in grad school teach me this critic well, I'd like to think. Glad you stopped by to see my spread!

Linda Conkey Shaw said...

loved your post. I've been struggling with the guilt of taking time to myself. Its a paradox really. I need time alone to write and when I'm done I need to feel life around me. pets children, friends, family. I find it's a hard balance to keep.
What I loved most about your post was the honesty. And that is why I write.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Linda--just stop feeling guilty for taking tie to yourself. For me, it's essential, like air and water. But I don't have kids. Being alone is the only way for me to heal and get the ship righted, to see and live more deeply.