I used to fantasize of the perfect writing place. I envisioned a beach house with pale wood floors and white curtains blowing in a breeze as I sat behind a small desk in front of the window, my fingers tapping the keyboard in perfect cadence with the waves.
In the meantime, I wrote at a desk bought on clearance years ago at the Kmart, in a chair bought on clearance at the Walmart, in the corner of an apartment with wood laminate flooring I put in myself (the grain veering this way and that). Instead of curtains there were windowblinds, bent and torn from the cats’ prying paws.
This is where I wrote for years, tucked in the corner and surrounded by books, the cats periodically leaping on and off my lap. Sometimes they spit up hairballs on my chair or I’d find the dog’s chewbone tucked carefully inside a pile of manuscripts. This never bothered me, since I viewed the space as temporary—it was what I had to put up with until I could afford to create the writing space of my dreams.
A few years later, I was awarded a writing residency through Hidden River Arts and soon found myself situated in a stunning condo on Bethany Beach, Delaware, compete with a deck and huge windows overlooking the ocean.
“Perfect,” I thought, and set up my laptop in front of the windows. I could hear the surf, smell the salt air. Yet situated in my “perfect” writing space, I found that my words didn’t come as easily as I expected. After two days of struggle, I moved the kitchen table up against the corner and there, staring at the blank white walls, I wrote and wrote and wrote.
You think that would have taught me a lesson, but it didn’t. When I returned home I bitterly sat down at my Kmart desk (which sagged so much that I slipped a copy of Robert Frost’s poem beneath one side), sure I would be a better writer if only I had a nicer writing area.
It took me years to realize that where I write doesn’t matter. I can (and have) written in the bathtub, at Chuck E. Cheese, in the car waiting to pick up my son, in airports and restaurant bathrooms, at work, in a closet and while getting a haircut. One of the best scenes from my second novel (still in the writing) flew into my head as I squatted to relieve myself during a winter run up Powerline Pass.
And two nights ago, I emerged from a week-long writer’s block while flying in a Supercub over Bear Glacier, hurriedly scrawling words on a crumbled paper I found in the back of the seat pocket. Once we landed, I sat on the runway of that small-town airport and wrote three glorious and messy pages.
Would the same words have come to me had I been home sitting at a perfect writing space? Perhaps, but I doubt that they would have been as fresh or as real.
Whenever I hear friends talk about needing a perfect place to write, I can sympathize. I think we all procrastinate this way. Writing is such a scary process. Facing a blank screen each day is the bravest thing many of us will do all week. But looking for a perfect place or time to write is like waiting for the perfect time to have a child—for the most part, it doesn’t exist. For the most part, we need to jump right in, move forward and do it. Now.
Of course, I wish it were that easy. It isn’t. Writing is agonizing and stubborn, moody and unpredictable. You can sit for hours with nothing in your head and then, while greeting a work client or walking the dog or eating burrito, be hit with a flow of words so beautiful your eyes water.
Yesterday as I wrote at the SeaBean Café, a 2-year-old girl in a sun dress danced barefoot across the room, her arms outstretched, her chubby legs moving with the unselfconscious beauty of childhood. One day this girl will show up in a story or poem, and I would never have seen her had I been home writing in perfectly arranged space.
Cinthia Ritchie is madly struggling to finish the rewrites on her first novel, “The Dirty Diaries,” due out from Grand Central Books early next year. The worse she writes, the more she runs. She is presently training for a marathon.