Hemingway wrote a story called “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” In it, he contrasts light and darkness. Darkness symbolizes loneliness, despair, death and the nothingness of man. The light of the clean, well-lighted cafe in which the story takes place suggests comfort, peace, pleasantness and the company of others.
It’s a great story, and you should definitely read it. But that’s what this post is about. I want to talk about another sort of clean, well-lighted space. The writing space.
Now, as a writer, one should be able to do the writing work anywhere, in any medium, right? That’s the essence of the writing life, isn’t it? Not so fast. Maya Angelou wrote everything in rented hotel rooms. Kevin J. Anderson and Martin L. Shoemaker each write their first drafts by dictating to a voice recorder. Some type everything. Others handwrite, longhand, into notebooks. The beginning of each episode of the Ray Bradbury Theater shows the author at his cluttered desk in his trinket-littered office, eyes searching the array of items on shelves and tables for inspiration. It’s said that Bradbury wrote a short story every day of his life, first thing in the morning, before getting to work on the current project. Every day. Wherever he was. He just made it happen.
My own quest for the perfect writing spot is still underway.
I wrote the first draft of my first Sola Pyne story, Extraterrestrial: A Love Story, while sitting at my office desk in the dingy showroom of a used appliance store where I made $40/day.
The bulk of my novel, Programmed Failure, was created in the corner of the one heated room in the dilapidated farmhouse I lived in the first few years I worked as a butcher. The house was located in front of the slaughterhouse, and I rented it from the owners, who I worked for, for a little bit of nothing. It was a hovel, and mouse-infested, but the cat, Rami, took care of that while I was hunkered down writing in my off-hours.
I created the world of Kai’Reji and the story lines for three fantasy series while living in a tiny house with my father and brother. I managed to put out a number of short stories while living there and passing many hours at a wide desk in a small yellow room with a single window facing the massage parlor next door.
Sometimes I go into work early and use an unoccupied room to sprint through a scene.
Sometimes I write outside to get the juices flowing a little differently.
I like to write at bars, with an old-fashioned waiting in the wings.
Starbucks didn’t work for me. I have to get my coffee to go.
Right now, I’m parked at my girlfriend’s kitchen table while she’s at work, writing this as warm June sunlight pours through the sliding door, gleaming across the sprouting cornfield just beyond her well-tended lawn. The air conditioning is on, I’m filled with Michigan Cherry coffee (delicious!), and I’m feeling rather inspired.
The house I’m currently renting is dim, poorly lighted, and a little depressing at times. I find it taxing and difficult to get motivated there. But, I’m a professional, so I force myself to do the work. But that sucks. Forcing yourself to write is miserable. It’s so much better for your mental health, and for the writing, when the first draft flows from you, when you’re really feeling it.
Fortunately, as I’ve written about before and will certainly mention again, I am blessed to be always surrounded by a multitude of supporters. People who try to understand me, though it is hard even for us writers to understands ourselves or one another.
Upon hearing my complaints of the shadowed dimness and depressing state of my office (which is a small 5×5 foot corner of my dark bedroom, my mother purchased for me an array of six, 4-foot-long LED lights for me to mount around my workspace. Perhaps it’s not ideal, but it’s getting there.
But what is ideal? For Maya Angelou, it appears to be hotel rooms. For Kevin J. Anderson, hiking in the mountains while speaking the story aloud. I don’t know yet what it is for me, or if it matters, or if I’ll ever discover what feels ideal.
In the meanwhile, I just keep writing, putting one word after another in the hope that those words will coalesce into a great tale, a great body of work that I will leave behind when I exit stage left.
I encourage you, dear writer friend, to do the same. Seek the ultimate, perfect writing space. Look for it under every rock, around every dark corner, in a bar or restaurant, at your girlfriend’s kitchen table. Search for that clean, well-lighted space that you can claim as your creative center, that will make your writing flow and your mind want for nothing.
Enjoy the journey. Seek perfection. But don’t forgot to continue writing along the way. Because, whether a place is ideal or not, whether you have a laptop, a phone, a pen and pad, it matters not. What matters is getting the words down in anyway possible while searching for that perfect space.
What I’m saying is this: I guess I’ve found that the perfect writing environment is wherever I end up writing something great. It’s the same for you. The perfect spot is where the writing is happening.
I hope all you writers out there find such a place.
Check out more for C.L. Phillips at his website. http://cl-phillips.com/