Friday, December 17, 2010

Writing Spaces

Ray Bradbury used to open his half-hour anthology series with a quick narration answering what may well be the professional fictionalist's most commonly asked question, “Where do you get your idea's from?” His answer, via narration and a long camera pan, was his writing space. I hesitate to call it an office, because if anything it resembled a small museum of knick-knacks and sci-fi doo-dads. There were a couple of robots, probably an alien or two, and I seem to recall one of those generic t-rex-like green plastic dinosaurs. I doubt it was his actual writing space, and suspect like the little vignette of Stephen J Cannell's desk at the end of the credits for each of his shows it was staged more for cinematic effect than verisimilitude, but even if it wasn't I suspect Bradbury had a space that at least resembled it.

Writer's seem to need their space. I know of more than a few authors who have written their first novel (or two or three) at the kitchen table or tucked in next to the laundromat. There is the old cliché about the writer working in the attic or the basement, and like all cliches there is a certain amount of truth to it. The subject of writers working down in the dark or up in the rafters came up at the conference I attended, and there seemed to be a fair proportion of the writers there who did, in fact, work in such spaces. (I happen to work upstairs on the third floor, in what is, essentially, a converted attic.)

I would posit, however, that a writer's space is slightly different from a home office, in at least one regard. This has nothing to do with the level of organization, as I am sure that varies from writer to writer. (I spent two hours organizing my own space the other day when what started as an attempt to find a particular document became a whole-scale exercise in sorting and filing. But it looks a lot neater now, and I did eventually find the document.)

Rather, a writer's space has that little extra something in the way of inspiration. I am not talking about the inspirational posters with the black borders and blasé scenes of sunsets and mountains. (But if you have a few of those I'm not going to point fingers. They are pretty pictures, for the most part.) No, these are the extra items, the pictures, the posters, the figurines, the what-nots and whatevers that line the shelves or the edges of the desk or hang on the walls. They are different for every writer, and they are often the kind of thing that you wouldn't decorate your corporate office with. These may even include posters, as I have my space lined with movie posters of various genres.

They are also the books. I don't know of any writer with their own space that doesn't include books. The usual manual of style, of course, and a couple of writing tomes, of course, but then the other books as well. The ones that probably don't serve any professional purpose even if they were bought under the rationalization umbrella that afflicts all of us when we look at something neat and think, “Hey, I could use that!” knowing full well we probably never will. I have an entire shelf of those. They do get opened from time to time because I still enjoy looking up things the old-fashioned way, but by and large they are there for inspirational purposes only. And because I like books.

These are the kind of things that say, "There's more going on here than bookkeeping." They provide that extra sense of personality, that little hint that while serious work goes on here, it's also a place of imagination and fun. Where ideas are given free reign in an environment that probably wouldn't exist in a stuffy corporate office.

Come to think of it, has any writer ever written in a stuffy corporate office? I may have to go look that up. Somehow. Might even be in one of my books.

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