The Best Places to Write
As Virginia Woolf advocated, I have a room of my own. The thing is, she didn’t explain how to make yourself go to that room and write.
I’m not talking writer’s block here. A Photographic Death is my thirteenth published book, and I’ve written enough newspaper and magazine stories to paper a bathroom. Until a few years ago, I worked fulltime for the Suffolk County Department of Social Services. With a nine-to-five job and a family needing attention, I shoehorned writing in whenever I could.
“Shoehorning” meant writing in my car during my lunch hour, yellow pad on the steering wheel, and checking page proofs while I waited for the high school team to arrive at the game. When I was getting my MFA, I was at the computer for two hours before my day of work began.
When I left my social work job, I didn’t retire. I expanded my avocation of selling used and rare books over the Internet. Tracking down desirable books kept my sense of adventure (and income stream) alive and helped to develop the background for the mysteries featuring bookseller Delhi Laine. Instead of sitting in the driver’s seat in the parking lot at lunchtime, I was working in my car in the early morning hours while waiting for a sale to begin.
So over the years I’ve discovered the best venues for the different aspects of writing.
For Story Planning and General Philosophizing:
Anything in motion. For me, it’s the train to
Manhattan or the ferry to . I have a tiny Moleskine
notebook with a textured blue cover that stays unnoticed in my purse until I am
headed somewhere. The entries start, “On the train again” and size up my
feelings about my current project, longterm book planning, strategies for
publicity and so on. There is something about moving, feeling as if I am going
somewhere, that frees up feelings and ideas. Connecticut
This means taking a walk. When my husband Tom and I go around the neighborhood, we notice seasonal changes and often talk. But other times I’ll be thinking about my story and revelations will come. Suddenly I’ll realize, “But Delhi would never . . .“ or “Maybe the reporter in
finds out . . “ The plot twists are sometimes logical, often startling. Things
occur to me that never would at home.
For Book Revision:
Starbucks. Or any other place that has ambient noise and activity that has nothing to do with me. There’s always someplace, no matter where you are. I’ve even found a table in McDonalds and pulled out my laptop or manuscript pages. Once in a while I’ll go to the library, but it can be a little too quiet in the “Study Room.” A place where there is a sense of life being lived makes it easiest to focus on making editorial changes.
For Writing a First Draft:
Anywhere you’re in the habit of working. If you’re sitting at your desk and feel blocked, go back to your favorite spot to read, send emails on your laptop and so on. For me it’s one corner of the living room couch. It’s where I’m sitting right now. But I know this has to change. Just as soon as I can I’m going to get up and head for that room of my own.
JUDI CULBERTSON draws on her experience as a used-and-rare book dealer, social worker, and world traveler to create her bibliophile mysteries. She has co-authored five illustrated guides with her husband, Tom Randall, of such cities as Paris, London, and New York. She is also the author of the acclaimed nonfiction titles SCALING DOWN and THE CLUTTER CURE. She lives in Port Jefferson, New York, with her family.