How does where you live influence your writing?
When I sat down to write this morning, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to write about. As I mentioned last week, life has suddenly gotten a bit crazier than usual. I’ve been jostled out of my usual groove and am flailing a bit in terms of time, energy, and attention. I read through my collection of post ideas hoping something would gel, but nothing came together. Instead, my mind just gnashed anxiously at unsolved problems.
So, in the spirit of letting difficult times inspire and fuel my writing, I decided to look one piece of my dilemma square in the face, and see how I could put it to a better use than simply keeping me up at night.
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Many famous writers are associated with a specific place. Thoreau had Walden Pond. Hemingway had Keywest. Emily Dickinson lived the life of a near recluse in her Amherst home. Virgina Woolf’s concept of “a room of one’s own” has evolved over the decades into a kind of touchstone for writers. It has come to represent a safe haven for creative endeavors, a place where a writer can put down roots and nurture the writing habit.
I am a homebody – much more like the solitary Dickinson than the adventurous Hemingway. Though I enjoy traveling, I believe much of its charm lies in the part where you get to come home. I have lived almost my entire life in the same small town. I know the people and the shops, the neighborhoods and the natural landscapes. I enjoy the seasonal routines and the community traditions. This is my home. It is part of who I am, and therefore part of what I write.
Over the past seven years, my daughter and I have moved four times. Though the last three have been to different houses right here in our beloved town, the disruption of changing homes has been a physical and emotional challenge for both of us. Anyone who has moved knows that the process of purging, packing, and setting up housekeeping in a new place can be quite draining. Part of what has been keeping me up nights lately has to do with the fact that there’s a strong probability we’ll need to move again soon. And that got me thinking about how where we live and the kinds of places we inhabit can influence our writing.
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Why should place have such an influence on what or how we write? Isn’t writing the ultimate portable practice? Have notebook, will travel, right? Shouldn’t the writer be adaptable, able to create anywhere? Shouldn’t the act of writing block out the physical world around us, leaving us to focus entirely on the words before us? Maybe. But it does seem that each writer finds certain places and spaces that inspire the muse more than others. And, certainly, a change of scenery can shift the topic or tone of what you’re writing dramatically.
Over the past seven years I have written in a variety of places: a drafting table in a room above the garage of my ex-marital home, a small office tucked into the corner of the second-story carriage house on an old money estate, a nondescript front office in a nondescript colonial that was about 1500 square feet bigger than my daughter and I needed, a sunroom addition at the back of a three hundred year-old antique, and finally at a magical desk (built by my beau) overlooking the town wharf from a second story apartment in a home originally owned by an mid-nineteenth century ship’s captain. I wonder, if I looked back at what I’ve written at each of these places, if I would see any trends or transitions that would show how my physical surroundings influenced my writing. I wonder.
Can a writer living on the upper east side write convincingly about the depth of the redwood forest? Can a writer residing in pastoral bliss accurately capture the grit of the inner city? Certainly, fantasy and science fiction writers craft stories about fantastic and alien different worlds all the time, but do their worlds bear any resemblance – if not physically, then in “feel” – to their own? Again, I wonder.
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Of course, more influential than the physical nature of our surroundings, is how they make us feel. Do we feel safe or at risk? Do we feel comforted or trapped? Do we feel at home or like an outsider? Are we inspired to write out of gratitude and love, or compelled to write in order to work through questions or pain? Do we write in a place that makes us feel protected and courageous, or do we write in a place that makes us feel vulnerable and afraid?
As I write this, I realize that the act of moving has influenced my writing as much as where we have lived. Though we’ve stayed in one town, the constant change has made me think more about stability, constancy, and the idea of home. Having to relocate and reestablish ourselves time after time has prompted me to ask myself what makes a home a home. I’m also coming to face some personal truths about how closely I associate where I live with my identity, how I let my home define me.
All of these questions and quandaries emerge in my writing in unexpected ways. And my writing helps me navigate my way through the challenges and the changes. So, in the end, I guess it isn’t just place that influences writing, but also writing that influences how I feel about where I am.
What I’m Reading:
I recently finished listening to Graham Joyce’s novel, Some Kind of Fairytale, on Audible. Though Stephen King named it one of his “best books of 2012,” I have mixed feelings about it.
Some Kind of Fairytale tells the story of Tara Martin, a young woman who disappears at the age of sixteen, leaving her family and friends to assume she’s been murdered. After twenty years, she returns, looking like she hasn’t aged a day and telling a story about having been abducted by the faeries. Only, these aren’t Tinkerbell faeries, these are human-sized beings who live in what appears to be another dimension and have a predilection for flagrant and public promiscuity.
The story is told from several viewpoints, a technique which can work quite well to give the reader multiple perspectives and insights into a situation. I found, however, that it created more distance than I would have liked between me and the characters. It made it hard for me to invest in any one character. I wasn’t sure who to believe or root for, so to speak.
One of my favorite threads in the story was actually a sideline tale about Tara’s nephew and his elderly neighbor. There was something about this poignant piece that felt so tangible to me. And, truth be told, I felt more satisfied with the way that sub-story wrapped up than with the way the book wrapped up.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- On Writing And Mindset For Indie Authors With Susan Kaye Quinn by @thecreativepenn
- Two Harvard Professors Reveal One Reason Our Brains Love to Procrastinate by @james_clear
- Writing Wednesdays: The Writer’s Skill by @SPressfield
- This Writer Reads 365 Short Stories a Year. Here’s Why by @peterjohnmclean
- 12 Tools You Didn’t Realize Could Send You More Blog Traffic by @ShiProjects
- The New New York Public Library by Deborah Fallows
- Is Your Creative Work Stuck in the Mud? by @DanBlank
- Writing Habits And Routines, Filling The Creative Well And More Tips On Writing And Productivity by @thecreativepenn
- The Write Way to Answer Your Most Pressing Questions by @pamelaiwilson
Finally, a quote for the week:
Here’s to finding your special place and learning to make space for your writing no matter where you are.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.