Saturday, November 03, 2007

Day Care Center for Writers

Last week Grace was here visiting (very fun!) and we tried to write. She sat in the window seat with her laptop, I sat at my computer -- writing is usually so solitary. This felt so cozy and snug and FUN. It reminded me of where I wrote a big chunk of my first published novel: a sunny bright yellow office with a beautiful view of the Palo Alto hills.

This was at the Stanford Physics Dept., where I worked part-time as a secretary and my boss said I could work on my novel whenever there wasn't anything to do for him. I liked the space so much that I would sometimes go back there in the evening, all the physics grad students in the group (who I was friends with) were in THEIR office down the hall, and I could hear them laughing, and we were all there working, alone but not alone.

That is one of the many things about being a writer that I've never figured out how to manage on a regular basis. Lillian Hellman once said that she always wanted other people to leave her alone when she wanted to be alone, but be there when she wanted company: "and even when I was a child I knew the other people wouldn't let me get away with that."

She never married and maybe that's why. SOME husbands leave people alone to write -- Collete's first (and maybe only?) husband used to lock her in a room and leave her there until she had slipped a certain number of pages under the door. But I think most partners don't understand the need for solitude. Time spent lolling around thinking can look a lot like laziness (and often it is!)...but not always.

How do those of you with partners manage it?

Me, I wish there were a day care center for writers.It would have a great view, and little desks, and stay open 24 hours to accomodate all schedules. Every two hours, someone would wheel snacks around on an old-fashioned brass tea trolley: tea,dim sum, maybe little Vietnamese crepes/omelets....or maybe (equally realistic?) it really is time to hook up with someone. But NOT another writer! One in a family is enough.


Anonymous said...

I have always loved The Loft in Minneapolis - in part, because they have responded to the needs and desires you write about in this post.

Small studios - each a separate room with writing desk and window - and a shared lounge area.

Take a peek:

(don't forget to include the entire URL to get there)

Wish there were more places like this across the country.

Having said that, I am uncertain I would work if I had access to others. Oftentimes the only thing that keeps me going is forced solitude.

Thanks for the posting. It is fun to think about.


Anonymous said...

In Portland, OR the central library has the Sterling Room for writers. It's a big sunny room with 4 desks. If you are a writer you can check out a key and work as long as you like during library hours. You can bring in reference books, maps, and even things from the rare book room, but you can't talk, eat, or snore.
It's very inspiring to work with other writers even if they are complete strangers.

Julia Denos said...

Hi Libby! I totally get this!! Hmm, I like what you said about being in someone's company working being cozy and snug and fun, and later what you mentioned Lillian Hellman said-alone but not alone.

I have recently figured out that while I work on an art project, I work so much more productively with my roomates home, watching tv cooking in the other room, sometimes popping in and out. I do work alone, but really enjoy the energy of other people to spur on my coziness.

It's almost as if it makes a reason for me to be solitary, having my little quiet place with people just outside the door.

I went home to visit family a few weeks ago, and did most of my final drawings for a book on a dinner tray in the living room amidst my chatty siblings and a crackling fire. I listened and laughed but drew faster than I did when I returned home to the studio...
hmmm....freelance life is interesting isn't it?

glad to hear you have this same experience :) hope all is well.


Sarah Ockler said...

Hi Libby - great post. Fortunately my husband is pretty understanding about my alone time for writing... which usually turns into my "I want company but only in short bursts at my convenience" time. I totally get what you mean about lying around looking (to the average bystander) a lot like laziness. We're just writing in our heads, right? Thinking about a scene or a character or churning through some new ideas.

Writing is such a sub-culture. Maybe someone will invent the day care center you described - like Starbucks but nor corporate and only for artists and writers. No one else fully understands us! :-)


Rita said...

Hi. I always love this topic, and I especially loved the question, "How do those of you with partners manage it?" Haha!

Once, I took a writing class wherein the instructor gave us two pieces of wisdom on the last day, which he always gave all his classes on the last day. The first was: Whether you get published has nothing to do with how talented you are. It's only a matter of how determined you are.

The second was: You must choose a significant other who understands about your writing--or you will end up choosing between them.

We were very startled--and then everyone started nodding vigorously.

I suspect this goes for all the arts . . . and for all passions.

Also: I work best when alone but near people and/or good music (such as in cafes or certain, lively libraries)--or if I know the rest of the world is asleep. For some reason, that latter factor really helps. :)