|Dr. Ellen Tsagaris|
It was about six years ago, and I was trying to enter a writing contest, and a very scholarly one at that. It had to do with Virginia Woolf's A Room of Ones' Own, a piece I knew like the back of my hand. The contest called for lesson plans based on Room; easy! Right! Wrong! Though I had taught, read, studied, written about, viewed, and reviewed Room dozens of times, my mind went blank. I couldn't come up with anything, and got cold and hot at the same time just thinking about it. This wasn't just a case of writers block; it was mind block. I had forgotten everything. THE ROUTINE as I called the daily grind for me had eaten up my writing capabilities. Why? I thought I was washed up, done, before I'd even started. My unfinished manuscripts called to me; I couldn't answer. I looked around at the "writing stations" I had tried to carve out for myself, the bedroom desk piled with reference books, the living room computer station, my trusty lap desks, the writing board I used at my parents, even my old 386 computer. Nothing called to me. It was a challenge trying to get the correct writing atmosphere. Then it hit me; I needed just to write. Anywhere. On anything. There was no magic room, or pen. Like many writers, I dreamed of being The Madwoman in the Attic, with my own vintage roll top desk, and a laptop, and file cabinets for all my carefully sorted manuscripts. My pencils would always be sharp, but the sharpener would never be far behind. I would have inspirational words written all over the attic, the way Anne Rice wrote words on her study walls in the house on First Street. I would have writing costumes, my first editions and signed books nearby, my reference books and dissertation research all handy. And, if this fantasy really took hold of me, I would never write because I’d never have the necessary space and props.
So I took a page from Barbara Pym's book, and like her, I started to carry around little notebooks for ideas. I wrote words I liked, ideas, character sketches. Sometimes I taped in things I cut out. I started stories and novels. I keep these little books and go back to them. They keep me from losing good thoughts and ideas. If I really don't have a little book handy, I jot notes in calendars, on margins, on scraps I tear off of envelopes and napkins, and on Post Its. I tend to keep my Post Its, usually in pretty tins. I've put them together like puzzles to create entire essays, sort of a literary Mah Jong.The little notes helped. So did getting my Netbook, pink and cute as it is. Now, I could write anywhere, and I do. I make my inspiration and materials portable. I like to write outside on my patio on quiet days, when it is cool enough to be comfortable but sunny enough to see. I write on a wooden TV tray in my living room, surrounded by all my books, collections, family photos and things I love. Sometimes, when it is very hot, I go downstairs to the carpeted hallway of my basement, and set up said TV tray and my favorite green camp chair. It is a good place to edit, and to find solitude. I write in cafes and coffee houses; usually I work on longer projects there, and maybe bookmark Internet research. Libraries are OK; but I'm usually there to do research, or to browse their salesrooms. It seems harder to concentrate in libraries for me. I could only study productively in my law school library. To this day, I couldn't say why.
I work on several projects at once; I read for one, edit one, research for one, write a draft, write a chapter. This keeps me fresh, and sometimes one project informs another, or reminds me of what I need to do an another. Because my mind is occupied with new and various things, I don't get stuck or bored.I also blog. Some writers warn us away from blogging; they say it is a way to waste time, when we should be turning out a manuscript. For me, it is a warm up exercise. My ideas are born in blogs; some are tried out as excerpts on my blogs. I also like to read blogs to get ideas; sources may need to be checked, but the writing is fresh, honest, written by someone who cares. Blogs give me confidence. I can see who is reading them, and as the number of viewers grows, so does my sense of accomplishment.
So, I write everywhere. When I can. On a lot of things. The world is now my "room." That dreamy space in the attic? If I ever get it, I'll use it for sleeping.
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