Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Planes, Trains, and Picnic Tables - A Writer's Zone by Janice M. Wilson

Andy Farmer - first day as a novelist had experienced his first writer's block

Anyone who knows me and has visited my home, the first thing they ask me is ‘where do you write all the time’?   They look around for an office or desk, puzzled.  I don’t have a desk.  As much time as I claim to spend writing, this surprises most people. 
Let me clarify that statement.   I do have a desk, but there’s not one in my home, nor do I have a private paid office somewhere.  My office is where I can relax and get inspired, express that inspiration without distraction, and be free to reach and stay in that ‘zen’.  My office is most often the great panoramic outdoors.

That's better!

I envy those such as Jodi Picoult or Stephen King who have a particular place at home they can sit each day and type, or maybe write with a quill in a tiny Maine cabin like Henry Thoreau often did.   Jane Austen could still pull it together amid family chaos, and actually thrived from it professionally.
Maybe someday I could if I had a place of my own big extra bedroom - or better yet - an airy loft or porch with open windows facing a broad view.  That’s the only way I could ever do work at home.  That’s a big maybe….

I'd be okay with this desk in the Hamptons Beachside!

Several spirited attempts were made at home but my senses, insight, ideas and story lines shattered as glass thrown against a brick wall if I sit facing one. Sometimes the wall and I just stared at each other. Or the clutter piles grow and creep along the floor to swallow me whole.  Then the food beckons me for a bite, the washer buzzes to be emptied of clothes, and the bills scream to be paid.
That’s when I grab my bag, my keys, hiker boots, blanket, Snoopy doll, my warmies and I run out.
Weeks ago, as I walked along Atsion Lake in the Pinelands of New Jersey on a cold day, the sunlight sparkled on calm cedar water   It warmed my face for a little while, as I watched some quails peck at the ground nearby.  I felt welcomed here, as if the elements were glad to see me and promised to stir things up in my head.   And just like any day I walked back to the car at the vacant cabin just itching to write.

Atsion Lake, 2014 in the fall.  Pinebarrens, NJ  for an inspiring hike, picture by Janice  M. Wilson

Out of respect, I usually ‘unplug’ from society when I am in the finest of nature.   Everything is perfect as it is – the trees and the ocean don’t need my EVM vibrations any more than they need a forest fire or hurricane.   My cell phone rests in my pocket put on airplane mode to keep me undisturbed by distractions.  I bring it along only to take some pictures if I forget my camera.  In my other pocket sit some pinecones and flagrant long needle pine branches (or shells) that I find, sacred artifacts to pull out later. 
Like old friends sitting nearby, I do my best work when I release the freshness coaxed by fragrant shells or conifer needles into my imagination, then the sorrows, love and adventure pour out onto paper or a keyboard.  I still prefer paper.  If I don’t bleed the drama, I suffer a ‘writers’ regret’ headache after forgetting it all later.

What my picnic table often looks like when writing.

Back to the question of where my desk is: If I can write it there, it becomes my ‘desk’.  The element I need is fresh air.  I want to sit right here and write all the time, despite the cold or heat. 
Now today, the snow falls thick enough to block the view of the other side of the lake, and there’s no way I can use my laptop without it getting ruined with melted snow inside the warm keyboard.  My paper would just get wet and the ink would run.  But a story is brewing, a new love affair blossoms in my mind and heart that I have to share or the characters will run off to another writer only too ready to enflame their passion.
The lovers I ‘feel’ right now want to stay inside this summer cabin near where I sit locked outside - in the cold wet elements.  I can’t get in either, even if I wanted to. What do I do now in this situation? Most writers would go home or to a café.  Not this one. I simply sit under a canopy of trees or camp out in the car.  Out comes my thermos of hot tea, my snacks, my quilt, my natural artifacts, Snoopy, and my tablet of paper and pen.

Yes, I am famous for sitting outside during a blizzard.  I even have the boots!

Yes, I have attended writing retreats in cabins and beach lofts where I got a lot done (only with a lot of windows and outside time around a fire or on the beach). There are a few cafés (and even one old fisherman’s bar) where I can pick up the pen and work near a window with a great artisan java. For a rainy day at the beach, I find a gazebo or patio or sit in the truck and imagine some brave seamen skillfully battle their sails through the treacherous Barnegat Outlet.  When at a park, I find a picnic table and people watch.
I wish I could tuck away into some home office sometimes.  It would probably be easier, warmer and cheaper. What I found surprising is that many famous names write in their own homes in messy offices, attics, on the couch, bathtubs, in bed or brightly painted rooms.  Kindred spirits like me prefer transitional states of mind to pen their works at motels, libraries, riding on trains, plains, boats, buses, in terminals or dark corners in museums, bookstores, local cafés, diners and some even rent space to write.
A few simply need regular gatherings with other creative or just quirky, interesting people to watch. Quite a few had rituals they attended to faithfully, such as watching the sun rise, boards on a barrel, on the soles of their shoe, hiring Feng Shui masters to help with ‘flow’ in their homes, or to write by natural elements.

That's me, lakeside and writing in a journal of course!  Lake Lenape, NJ  August 2013

That last one works best for me, but whatever floats the boat works for you.   We all have our own niche – none of them are ‘wrong’ places.
            As comfortable as my house has been made, I can never quite capture there the same tickled sensations as being surrounded by the elements.  No, home is my quiet place where I hide and relax my brain. The obliged real world at home and my coveted life ‘at the office’ refuse to cohabitate.

That's me if I stay inside! lol


  1. Great post Janice. I'm glad no one can see my office. ;0) But I think you're right. Unplugging is the best way to get work done.

    1. It's usually the only way I get it done. LOL One of the best vacations I ever took was 8 days long in the Colorado Rockies. That was 10 years ago with no cell or tv signal for miles. I came back a different person (better for it!).

      Anyway, thank you! :)

  2. I'm a huge fan of the outdoors ... when it's warm. In the summer, I want to be anywhere but inside, often taking my laptop with me and perching in my little patio garden. Winter is a bit much for my delicate sensibilities, and I tend to hibernate with said laptop resting on my lap as I nudge my chair closer to the fireplace.

    Great post!
    In gratitude,

    1. Fireplace with a big dog on your feet? I love a good fire BUT it puts me asleep, and at the same time the hamsters are burning up the creative wheel in the brain.

      Now I feel like a warm blanket and fireplace. lol Thank you!

  3. What a wonderful post and it is so inspiring to think outside the box as to where we should write.

    1. Thank you, Marie! Everybody has their little comfort zone to discover, but I just hope that folks don't feel like they 'have to' write at home at a desk if they can't.

      Thanks for writing! Keep up your good stories, Steampunk Granny! ;)

  4. Oh, this post is fabulous -- it makes me want to write. I don't have a home office or a desk either. Someday the unfinished attic space will become my writing room, but that costs more money than we're ready to spend right now. So I write at my dining room table, or in bed, or from the front porch. Writing outside can be sheer bliss. (And yes, I do also write from Starbucks. A lot.)

    1. Now that makes me feel great too - you were inspired by my post! Thank you!

      I have a favorite coffee shop down here in South Jersey, not far from the Pinebarrens. It's called CAscianos in Hammonton. If you're ever in my neck of the woods, give me a shout and we'll go!

      Post a selfie on your post sometime!

      Thank you again for the compliments!

  5. I have a table with a cat bed on it. Once my kitty is curled up next to my keyboard, I'm set to work. :)

    1. That's cool, Mary! I will sneeze non-stop around cats (or my eyes will swell shut), but I do appreciate a loving pet nearby when I can. Maybe a big ole dog at my feet.

      I guess that's why I write with a Snoopy doll nearby.

      is your kitty your muse? Thank you for writing! :D

  6. I'm an all-over-the-place kind of writer. I don't have a dedicated space either, but would love to have one. Outdoors for me is great for inspiration, but I like being indoors to do the actual writing. Great post!

    1. I can appreciate both - if I'm near a window with a great scene, and if it's open. That's about as it gets for me indoors. lol

      Thanks for writing! Maybe I'll see you sometime at some nearby picnic table, also people watching and writing!