Weekend Edition – Place and Writing Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

How does where you live influence your writing?

Site of Thoreau's cabin on Walden Pond, circa 1908 (Library of Congress)

Site of Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond, circa 1908 (Library of Congress)

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.

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What I’m Reading:

book some kind fairytaleI 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.

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And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

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Finally, a quote for the week:

pin reading place to go

Here’s to finding your special place and learning to make space for your writing no matter where you are. 
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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 Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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49 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – Place and Writing Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

    • Hi, Lauren. Just jove your blog name! 🙂
      Sounds like you’ve been to quite a few interesting places in your travels. Did you write while you were abroad, or were those trips mostly focused on experiencing the moment in the moment? Curious to know if you found any places on your journey that felt more focused, creative, or productive. Or, did you find any places that sort of followed up home, and showed up in your writing later on?

      Thanks for coming by!

      • Thanks Jamie 🙂
        I always keep travel journals, but that is the extent of my writing when I travel. I actually intend to write about a couple of those places (I am planning a literary road trip feature), so I can really write about my travels. I find I always write best outside, or in a room with lots of natural light. Otherwise I feel confined and fidgety.

      • Oh, I so understand the need for natural light! I have a hard time writing outside, but I love the idea of it. I can only do it with pen and notebook. 🙂

        Your mention of a travel journal reminded me of the journal my family kept on the cross-country road trip we took (me, Mom, Dad, and sis … in a VW Rabbit for 32 days!). I will have to ask my mom to look for that. I was about the age my daughter is now, and I bet she’d get a kick out of it.

        TKS!

  1. Nice. I just got home from a road trip researching my book and it was way more creatively inspiring than being a homebody feeling sorry for myself and blah blah blah. I have a couple of ideas for new posts on my site but now I’m processing what I experienced over the last couple of days. Anyway, happy Sunday. 🙂

    • Glad you had a good road trip AND are feeling creatively inspired as a result. That’s great!
      Good to get out into the world. 🙂

      Happy writing!

  2. I find I can write quite well in any location where I can sit criss cross apple sauce with my back to a wall. I know it’s a crazy combination but something about that set up with my warm laptop on my lap and my back protected let’s me lose myself in the work. My best stuff happens that way. I think my obsessive use of research does let me write convincingly about any locality or situation. But I’ll spend years researching before I write a novel. It’s probably not realistic for everyone. LOL

    • Hello, fellow mom and writer. 😉

      I can actually see how that might be pretty comfy – almost sounds like a meditation posture, so nothing wrong with that. Whatever works, they say.

      I haven’t worked on any long form fiction in a while, but I also tend to research quite a bit. I’m all about the details, and I enjoy the process of building a world from thousands of observations and pieces.

      Thanks for coming by and for sharing!

  3. Wow, I absolutely love how you realize that a home defines you as a person. I move a lot, due to my family. I will be the first to admit that it’s definitely not easy, it’s stressful and disrupts daily routines that you have worked so hard to establish. Your writing is beautiful and insightful. I respect you because you have seen what so many people fail to see on a daily basis, you see that a home is something that influences who you are and it greatly affects your mood and life overall. It’s just nice to see that someone finally gets it.

    • I think there are some people to whom the concept of “home” is something they can carry with them. I’ve always needed roots, though, and routine. I don’t think that one way of creating home is better than the other, but I do think it’s important for each of us to realize what home means to us and how it affects the way we feel. It’s been a long road, but some things are finally coming together in that department for me, so I’m pretty excited. Fingers crossed!

      Thanks for sharing, Madison.

  4. Loved this post. It is interesting how place comes up so much in my writing. Some of my stories take place in the desert, which is where I grew up. My latest story takes place around my current location and I set one story in the neighborhood my Grandparents lived. I have also had trouble writing lately. I feel burnt-out and uninspired. I have a serious case of wanderlust myself, and have moved more times than I can count. I am hoping my next trip to Alaska will rejuvenate me and give me some inspiration.

    • I sometimes wish I traveled more than I do. There’s a part of me that would love to just take off, but that’s not in the cards at this point in my life. Still … Alaska. Sounds amazing. My beau has been there (as well as to Ireland and Belize), and says I’d love it. It’s on my list. Maybe someday I’ll pack my life into a tiny house and just take my home with me wherever I go!

      Thanks for sharing how place figures into your writing. Hope your wanderlust is soothed soon! 🙂

  5. Thoughtful, as always, Jamie. I have recently written several pieces about my ‘Sense of Place’. Very much like you – I am a homebody who has moved frequently within a narrow geographical range. The more I write, the more I see and feel my writing – and more importantly my emotions – being influenced by Michigan and Colorado – my two home states in both a geographical and cultural sense.

    • Thanks, Sammy. I’ve love for you to share links to your “place posts.” 🙂

      Your comment has me wondering about the chemistry between a person, especially a writer, and a particular place. I wonder what sparks that kind of connection. Hmmm … you’ve got me thinking now.

  6. thoughtful piece that I re-shared (credit given of course). I especially like the magical desk. Writing fantasy (I love to fly with dragons) my geographic location may not influence my writing as much as my experiences. But that doesn’t say they don’t. While editing a work-in-progress noted how strong the emotions were. Then I realized the chapters were originally written at 2 AM in an ICU by starlight during a sickbed vigil.

    • I’m a lover of fantasy, too, Helen. 🙂 And I LOVE to fly with dragons.

      Your story about the emotions you felt about those ICU chapters is fascinating. It’s like your energy was woven into the words. Though I’m sorry you had to experience a sickbed vigil, I have to comment that your description of writing by starlight gave the scene a serene and magical quality.

      Thanks very much for coming by and for sharing.

  7. Yes, wow, place is so important to my writing. The more seriously I have taken my writing, the more energy I have put into creating my writing space. Or is it the other way around? Hard to say. My family has been very stable – ever since we’ve had children we’ve lived in the same little house – 12 years. When I write that, I feel slightly incredulous and a little frustrated. But moving 4 times in 7 years is hard. Really hard. I hope you find a place to put your roots down Jamie, if that’s what you need.

    • Hopefully you know what I mean there – obviously you have put roots down in your home town, but your actual house is what I’m talking about!

    • Interesting question … does being serious about your writing create a more intentional writing space, or does an intentional writing space make you more serious about your writing? Hmmm … 😉

      Yes, moving 4 times in 7 years has been a challenge, and one I never anticipated or thought I could handle; but – there you go – necessity is the mother of invention and the aunt of getting things done. I hope to have good news to share soon about those roots!

      Thanks, Sara. xo

  8. I just finished reading Walden and I can’t help but envy his location in nature. I live in Southeast Texas in an upstairs apartment, so I do struggle with capturing beautiful scenery through my writing when I’m in the midst of all this pollution. You wrote a great post and I will do all I can to travel and to transplant myself in past memories to enhance my writing when I cannot leave. Thank you.

    • That does sound like a challenge. I’m not sure I could flourish in a place without abundant nature. It’s such a big part of who I am as a person, never mind a writer. I hope that your imagination and memory come to your aid and transport you to other places when you need to leave the space you’re in.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and the book review. As a writer, I find it very difficult to write reviews if I’m not absolutely gushing about the book, but I’m getting better at it! 😉

      Thanks for coming by!

  9. Oh, absolutely! Before we moved into our house we lived with my boyfriend’s mother for quite a while, and I had the smallest desk-space imaginable in our small, cramped room. Getting anything done was a chore, no matter how easy it was supposed to be (how I managed to write my final essay in that spot for uni I’ll never know). I usually find it easier to write outside, the breeze really helps me focus, but when I can’t go outside because of weather I’m fine on our computer (finally with a proper desk!), too.

    • I love a breeze, too, although it often makes me want to abandon my desk and head outside! 😉

      I’m so glad you were able to move into your own house and get a proper desk. I hope that having your own space makes it easier for you to write – stretch those creative muscles! Enjoy!

  10. certainly, a change of scenery can shift the topic or tone of what you’re writing dramatically.
    This is true. But sometimes I wonder how a writer could write about Afghanistan even without visiting the aforesaid place. Likewise J.K. Rolling who had written about a magic world which in really doesn’t exist.
    If I write in a night covered with darkness, I have seen my writing has been influenced by the darkness. If I write just taking rain as the inspiration writing got influenced by rain. It is the real conception that places influence writing.

  11. Pingback: Weekend Edition – Idea Math for Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips | Live to Write – Write to Live

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