By John P. Tretbar
You Write WHERE?
David Mamet's collection of essays entitled WRITING IN RESTAURANTS inspired me to write just about everywhere. Like the pervert-preacher in MIDNIGHT COWBOY, I've written on rooftops, I've written in bus stations, I've written in brothels.
In the interest of full disclosure: Mamet argues that radio is a great training ground for writers, so, perhaps he is not to be trusted.
This month we take a look at where writers write. For research purposes, I cast a fairly wide net. I asked a dozen writers I know "where do you write?" Their answers were as diverse as their subject matter.
Growing up I was taught that a writer needs a dedicated writing space, free from clutter and distractions, in which to weave words together. Virginia Woolf asserted that a woman needs "a room of her own", and money, if she wants to write fiction. While many writers agree with this notion, many do not. Some of the best writing ever published erupted from shared rooms, in the public sphere, right out here among us.
Some of the writers I know go both ways. Some have rooms of their own but don't use them, and some distinguish between composing and typing, and where they do each.
Because he pays the bills, let's mention Jay Kerner first. Regular Joe's Fearless Leader likes music, and comfort, for writing: "I write from a century old roll top desk. I did replace the back-killing century-old chair. Typically with vinyl spinning."
Our poet friend Jay Claywell has a fairly strict routine. "I write by hand at Caribou Coffee (Hy-Vee) once a week. I write by hand (the daily journal) at a small desk in my home office. I TYPE formalized, finalized drafts at my laptop on said same desk."
Poet, educator and musician Lory Lacy says her ideas sometimes surface in the car or the shower. "Sometimes I record myself talking through ideas, and transcribe them later," Lory says. But she is still looking for "that sacred cave."
"Sometimes I will bring a computer to a public place. That’s the fantasy; the little coffee shop where people watch the starving artist spill her guts onto the page. It doesn’t usually come to fruition, though, because I know too many people."
Poet and theater critic Sanda Moore Coleman tells me she has both metaphorical and literal rooms of her own. "I would say that I write everywhere in my head," Sanda says, "meaning that I frequently stew over ideas and characters and places for a while before I actually sit down to write about them. When I sit down to write at my regular time, it is always at the computer in our little library."
Longtime friend Scott Phillips, the novelist who brought us THE ICE HARVEST, keeps it simple, and public, like his books: "Coffee house, headphones on, preferably at a table next to an outlet."
Poet Tony Gardner says time is a key ingredient. He starts drafting wherever he is when he gets an image or idea. "When I’m ready to put together a final version, I like to take time and make a trip to the library," Tony tells us. "I like being in that space, almost like a church...and to have the sense of being on a mission, to have agency."
My longtime friend Kazmier Maslanka is, among other things, a mathematical poet, whereby concepts reside inside mathematical equations to create poetic metaphor. "I have gone to some effort to build a library in my home to be a space for creative thought...an isolated stage used for creative inspiration only...immersed in inspirational books and art that connect me to my Dharma."
Retired English professor and actor Don Wineke says that in his "declining years," he reclines."I draw inspiration from the parking lot visible through the sliding glass doors of my apartment. That, along with my age, helps explain why I don’t get much writing done these days."
Whether you find agency or Dharma in a coffee shop or on a recliner, in the end, it may not matter much where you write. If you're going to get any writing done, what matters is that you actually write, regardless of the routine.