A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 5: The Writing Environment

You get a certain level of comfort writing being in the same room for a while. That’s not to say that certain place is the best place to write, however. Ever since I turned 18, I have had about six or so spaces that I considered to be my exclusive writing space. I made all of them work, even though each of them had certain disadvantages.

I’ve made various spots my writing dens over the years. When I was a kid and had my first desktop computer for college assignments, etc., I decided to use a small rolling desk designed especially for keyboards and desktop stacks. It wasn’t too private, but not too many people went down in the basement, and there were only three people in the house (Me, Mom, and Dad). So, I made that work.

I had that for a few years, and then, when I moved into my own apartment, I fit it into a second room of the two bedroom apartment right after I got married. I have to admit now, after the fact, that I was not doing as much writing as I aspired to do back in those days. It was a lot easier for me to call myself a writer rather than actually write. I’ve talked about that instinct in some previous Writer’s Biography posts.

That was during a 10-year stint in a town called Clinton, where my job had brought my wife and I there. (This would be the last time any job of mine moved us anywhere, and that was likely the best for me and my family, looking back.) We eventually got a nice older house, built in the late 1940’s, which became the first house that my kids ever had.

Although I don’t happen to have any photos of the place readily available, I remember the first house that I owned quite well, and the place that I decided to claim as my writing space. There was a back room to the house that appeared to be a former four seasons room turned into an interior sun room. There was a patio on top of the room that was connected to my son’s room, and he occasionally liked to amuse himself by running out there undressed. (In his defense, he was… four? Five? Something like that.) Sometimes the room leaked by the door when it rained really hard, but I was able to fit a couple of desks in there for both me and my wife’s laptops, and an old couch and television besides. There was a television in there, as well, and I always wondered if the television would be too much of a distraction for me, as it had been in my first basement lair of my youth. (These were more innocent times, before YouTube and YouTube TV meant that I could watch more or less whatever I wanted while I typed on the same screen. It’s not a home theater experience, mind, but that was never something that I was desperate to experience except for watching the biggest scale movies.)

Again, I got some writing done in that cozy, sunlit little room, but not as much as I wanted to. It was at that point, however, that I started to think that I needed to rededicate myself to writing.

This was my workspace and my room between mid-2007 and up until mid-2020 – about 13 years. The first time I entered this house – the biggest house that I had ever lived in up to that point – I found this room up at the top of the staircase and instantly decided, “This is the place.” I picked up the tiny corner desk you see below, filled the place up with bookcases, and called it my home office.

Yes, it really got dusty sometimes, and it got cluttered, for sure. But, it was mine, and a good place to write.

There were some disadvantages to that room. It was easily the warmest room in the house, and the air conditioning register was stuck underneath my futon. At one point I think I had something like four fans in that room to help with the circulation there. The carpet in there wasn’t in the best shape, and it didn’t get much better in the 13 years we spent there. And, I have to admit that I could have done a lot better job picking up the place. It started getting cluttered there with various papers and notes and various debris. There were plenty of little cracks and crevices in that room that didn’t get cleaned, either. (That was a bit of a mess on our final moveout day.

Due to different circumstances, I would often sleep in that room, too. I think that can be problematic for a writing room, because you tend to either overestimate the amount of time you have to write or it becomes immediately easy to procrastinate there. Once we decided to move to the new place, I determined that I didn’t want to have that as my sleeping place as well, so I stuck to that.

So, last year, we moved to my new home in Lucas County, Iowa, in a 100-year-old home that felt nice and cozy compared to the old place. We made some changes to the place to update it and began to settle in.

For a brief time, I had an office space in the spare front room of our new house. It was somewhat similar to what I had before, except for the hardwood flooring. I was able to get most of my bookcases in there, the old desk, and it seemed pretty settled.

My old desk just before I realized it was time for the trash heap. Oh, well.

Of course, as things happen, things in life happen. My wife and I had anticipated that we would be here pretty much by ourselves when we moved here. My son had moved to the Iowa City area for work in the HVAC field, and my daughter decided to study chemical engineering at my old school, the University of Iowa, also in Iowa City. However, COVID-19 eventually meant that my daughter moved for the next several months back in the room we had reserved for her for online learning. Then, due to other circumstances, my son needed to move back in with us and found some HVAC work in our town. However, he would have to take over our only remaining spare bedroom… which happened to be the same room that I had lovingly converted into my office.

Whatever disappointment that I might have felt with the loss of my writing den eventually became counterbalanced with the urges that had been fueling me for the past several months to simplify my life. I had the chance to further simplify it even further, which appealed to me. Thus, I moved forward with my next step.

So, I now present to you, my new writing hideout.

With our children’s two rooms below, the third bedroom, which my wife and I share, is tucked up into the attic of the house. It’s located up at the top of a twisting, narrow staircase that might worry me a bit if I thought we were going to be living here for the next 30 years. At the top of the staircase, there’s a small little landing that has just enough room for two bookcases, a chair, some storage, and my wife’s old-fashioned desk that she once used for her own business and now has generously lent it to me. I’m also glad for the carpeting, since that makes me slightly less nervous that I might sometime fall down the staircase going a little bit to the left.

There are a few disadvantages, of course. All rooms always have them. There’s no door to shut and I can hear any commotion downstairs, but you would be surprised what earbuds can cancel out. It might get a little warm in the upstairs, so I’m looking forward to replacing the window air conditioner we have up here.

But on the other hand, the staircase means that I get few people bothering me when I do write. I’m surprised that I have just enough space to work and not too much to get sloppy. It’s cozy, it’s intimate, and it is mine. And I do write things in here.

When it comes to a writing space, that’s the most important thing in the end.

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