Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Room of Your Own

I haven't had a dedicated writing room since the late 80s and early 90s. It was a narrow space with a built-in desk and white cabinets. Through the north-facing window, I saw chips of blue sky. Tulip-covered wallpaper gave me the garden I'd always craved, and long Formica counters offered plenty of space to spread out my papers. In this quiet spot, writer's block didn't exist. Words broke loose like ice sheets from a glacier, falling into a warm, bubbling cauldron.

When we left that house and moved into a 100-year old "Four Square," I didn't have a home office. Somehow, I managed to write quite a few books while lolling on the den sofa, a laptop propped on my knees, puppies chasing wads of paper across the floor. Now and then, I thought about the old writing room, remembering epic messes that came with each project. But I could close the door. When your office is portable, things can get out of hand. Quickly.
At the "Four-Square" house, I wrote on the aforementioned sofa, though sometimes I ended up in the middle of the bed, surrounded by sleeping dogs. Other times, I wrote on the porch. I wasn't in a "no go" zone, you see, and various people would wander up and say, "Oh, are you writing? Well, then I'm not interrupting you." That's the thing about writing. You often look as if you're staring at a spider web or "just" daydreaming. I'd turn off the laptop and listen, trying to keep one foot in the work-in-progress.  It was always a struggle. One too many interruptions can cause a deep freeze. A fragile idea can easily succumb to frostbite.
🍁
A similar thing happens when I'm working on a blog project. If I'm in the dining room, fiddling with a tablescape, I always think, "How much mess will this create? Will I inconvenience my family by leaving boxes everywhere?" Now that we're older, I worry that we'll trip and fall.

 Over the years, I pictured my first writing space and wondered why I never carved out another one. That room had worked with me. Then my life changed in many ways, for better and worse, and I became determined to keep my career rather low key on the homefront. Being shut away in a cocoon isn't a plus when you have a husband and children (though the Yorkies, my Muses, were always with me). Did I really need a home office? Over the years, I talked to authors who'd mastered the art of "writing anywhere." 
I agree with all my being that it's wise to be flexible. And really, a room of one's own is a state of mind. Yet there are times when you need solitude to reach the "zone," a place where the book writes itself. Some writers leave home when a deadline is looming, checking into luxury hotels or hiding out in a mountain cabin. Others stay put and try to ignore the chaos.
A dedicated working spot can be a cottage in the woods or the corner of a bedroom. For some, it may be a plush high-rise suite, with 24-hour room service. Size isn't important. What matters are the rituals you create when you enter your spot. These little activities train the mind, telling us that we're here to work. Before I plunge in, I dust my totems, special objects I've collected over the decades, and then I write in my journal, flushing rust from the pipes (so to speak). At this point, I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and work.


Now that I've finally made a place of my own, a wee She Shed, I am setting up rituals and totems. I remember the pure bliss of the late 80s, when I wrote my first novel in that long ago office. The cabinets were painted "Queen Anne's Lace," a Porter Paint color. I never grew tired of that soft, warm off-white. Children's drawings were pinned to a bulletin board, along with postcards and notes. A china bowl overflowed with feathers. A frog box held stones that were given to me by a fellow writer.
The new place reminds me of the original spot. All these years later, I have white cabinets and a north-facing window. I'm excited to have a blank, neutral slate for seasonal color.  If I need flowers or branches, the yard is a few steps away, and a country pasture waits beyone the gate. Best of all, there's no Internet or TV. Just birdsong drifting through the open door.


I'd always promised myself that when I turned sixty, I would try to be more like my role model, Tasha Tudor. A slow life, digging in the garden, tending to dogs, cooking in the afternoon, arranging a weedy bouquet, reading in sunlight, setting the table. 

“It's exciting to see things coming up again, plants that you've had twenty or thirty years. It's like seeing an old friend.” 
― Tasha TudorThe Private World of Tasha Tudor
Now, I'm in my mid-sixties, and I write and garden, cook and eat, play with my terrier puppy, organize drawers and fluff the house. I feel extra blessed to have this hidey-hole in the backyard. The moment I step inside, I hear a tiny click, as if gears are realigning inside my head.
That little shift says, Time to work. Time to live, laugh, create.

Shared at:

36 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post and I love your She Shed. I know that you will spend many hours in there doing what you love best.

    Have a wonderful rest of the week.

    Mary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm working on the built-in day bed today, moving the xmas tree so I can paint tomorrow. A little bit at a time.

      Delete
  2. I love your slow-life goals. I need to slow down and enjoy things more...and I love your she-shed. How nice to have a place like that! Enjoy the rest of your week!
    Shelley

    ReplyDelete
  3. Love this and these gorgeous photos. I think we all need a little place to get away sometimes to just reflect and to just be quiet. I love listening to the birds in the morning and I watch them out my sun room windows. Right now they are quite active dipping and diving over the pond.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I bet Miss Bailey is watching those birds. Jasper likes to stand on the windowsill and guard the front yard.

      Delete
  4. This makes me so happy for you. My heart is full.♥

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love your new writing space. Hopefully you'll decide to write a new book. I've read all of your books and I miss your characters!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Such insightful and beautiful words! You deserve that room of your own. Since I live alone with the pupsters, I have the whole place. Except for now when I'm living in the bedroom due to the "problematic wall."
    Brenda

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope the wallpaper gunk will quickly be in your rear view!

      Delete
  7. We are much in sync...age, thoughts of midlife. Thrilled to hear you hsve found a creative spot. I am stll balancing my laptop on my knees and making messes in the dining room. Ha! My dad always reminds me that life has seasons. At 88 he still parents me. 😊. Anyway..,love your sheshed and waiting to see your creativity from it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Excellent post! I enjoyed hearing about your writing spots and the process itself. The She Shed will be that perfect spot for you. Pasha Tudorgot it right...live simply. Hugs for Jasper...

    ReplyDelete
  9. When you first moved to this house, did you call first dibs on the shed? I would have! Nevertheless, you have claimed it now and it's turning out so darn cute! Happy days and dreams!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interestingly, no one claimed it. LOL The absence of WiFi and cable/DIRECTV may have influenced the guys right off the bat. πŸ˜‰

      Delete
  10. I thoroughly enjoyed this post- the beautiful photography and the beautiful words. And the place you are in life is where I'm headed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joanna, thank you! Slow living is a blessing of old age.

      Delete
  11. I enjoy reading these bits about your life. You have a lovely way of putting things and I can imagine everything as you take us through your thoughts. Your new she shed is going to be a wonderful and creative spot.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I love this... your words, your place, your creativity. You've created the perfect oasis. Birdsong is the best music. ♥

    ReplyDelete
  13. My 70th birthday is a mere month away. I work two days a week in an antique shop and one day in an alternative high school teaching language arts. I speed around on my days off looking for merchandise to sell in two antique malls where I maintain large spaces. My hips and one knee have been replaced and I really need the other knee replaced. I have a lovely garden, love fluffing my old house, and I often think blogging would be fun. I talk about slowing down, but then go off in a new direction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carole, I am so happy to read your comment. I hope you start blogging--and I know friends who frequent my blog would wish the same. Your words are an inspiration. PLEASE come back!

      Delete
  14. I love this post Michael Lee, I have been struggling with "my place" since my husband retired 2 years ago. It is wonderful to have him around, and he is not at all needy, he does his own thing and lets me do mine, but to free totally creative free, I need solitude! I have carved out a little corner of my beach house for my studio, and return to Birmingham once a month to my real studio but it's still not the same as just being able to walk into a different room and be instantly taken to your favorite mental zone. Good for you, I know many of us are a little green with envy! Your space looks so wonderful and calm...
    Jenna

    ReplyDelete
  15. How lovely to have your own space to write, blog, and just be. I do wish I had space for a proper office instead of the tiny cubby next to the utility room that feels more like a prison than an office! More often than not it's just a dumping ground for stacks of papers that need to be filed....someday!

    ReplyDelete
  16. What a beautiful post of writing and photos! The she-shed is perfect...so happy for you!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I wish I could take up residence in one of those gorgeous photos of yours. Have a good weekend.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Oh, Michael, I can feel your happiness and place of being through your descriptions! I hope someday I can enjoy a space similar. I love my office, perhaps just redecorating it would be a great, interim solution. It would be a nice way to be satisfied with what's here already. Your hidey-hole is absolute bliss.

    ReplyDelete
  19. What a perfect spot just for you, Michael Lee. I am so happy for you to have your very own she-shed to let loose your creativity. The quote by Tasha Tudor was a beautiful one!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thanks for a peek into your writing, the beautiful photos, and your sharing from the heart.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Love the dahlias, sunflowers and greenery spilling out of your sink as part of a lovely autumn vignette.
    How delightful your she shed is. I agree with Mary that birdsong is the best music. It was such a lovely day today and I spent the morning outside enjoying the birdsong.
    Glad you are enjoying your special space.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I just bookmarked this beautiful post. It was exactly what I needed today, the encouragement to focus on my writing and get back into the routines and totems that get my wheels turning. Your space and your writing is gorgeous! Thank you so much! ~ Kristin www.whitearrowshome.com

    ReplyDelete
  23. I love that you have your she shed. I remember the first time you commented on one of my blog posts several years ago. I could not believe that the Michael Lee West commented on my post! I had read all of your books and to have a famous author that I had read commenting was incredible. I remember running to my husband to tell him that the author, Michael Lee West, had commented on my post! Then I ran to the bookshelf to find your books to show him.

    ReplyDelete