Over the years, the space where I’ve written has changed through moves and travels and motherhood. I’ve watched as other authors posted beautiful photographs of serene spots, antique desks in front of windows that overlook rolling hills or sparkling lakes. Neat bookshelves typically stood nearby, steaming cups of coffee or delicate cups of tea perch on pretty, linen napkins, a sharpened pencil or two stands in a piece of glossy pottery, fluttering curtains let in a sweet breeze of inspiration.
I would look at these images and sigh. I would say to my husband, “Look at this. Look, she has a desk. She has a space of her own. Isn’t there some famous quote about that? See, she’s a real writer. I covet my neighbor’s writing space. That must be against some commandment. Something must be wrong with me.”
“You’re a writing gypsy,” he’d say and shrug.
“Doomed to wander the earth.” I’d picture myself with a knapsack thrown over my shoulder, living out of a boxcar with only my laptop, a Tall Starbucks, and three ratty children with no shoes existing solely on fast food because I couldn’t provide a proper home and complete my novel at the same time. “I’ll never finish this book.”
And I admit the truth is I’m standing at my kitchen counter while writing this. My coffee pot is directly in front of me for easy access. My four-year-old is watching cartoons (loud ones) and my husband is on a business call outside on the patio. (He’s had a shower. I have not.) The new puppy can see him through the kitchen door and is barking madly. My older two children are about the business of making microwave oatmeal, slamming cabinets and arguing about how much water to use. Ah, the writer’s life. You see, the truth is, I don’t have a writing space. In fact, now that I think about, I have never had a room of my own. I shared with my sister growing up. I shared with roommates in college. Now I share with my husband.
But before this starts to sound like I’m grumbling, let me clarify. While I have no writing space, I have a writer’s life to envy. Here’s what I mean.
While I was working on The River Witch, I often woke at three a.m. to find I was writing in my dreams and I watched my husband sleeping and knew my characters would embody love. I wrote one-handed while nursing babies and knew my story would reflect upon life and cycles, fear and innocence and miracles. I wrote on napkins in the preschool carpool line. I wrote by the pool in the summer. I wrote by the fire in winter and lying underneath the glow of the Christmas tree and looking out a window high above Time Square. I knew the book would be full of nostalgia and the unknown. I wrote while watching a north Georgia snowstorm and in the floor of the bathroom while my child was sick. I wrote on the back of a bulletin in church. I wrote in the bathtub and in the bed and in the closet and in the kitchen. I wrote in the parking lot at Target. I wrote in a miniscule hotel room in Paris. I wrote on a plane. I wrote looking over the San Francisco skyline. I wrote while I was in labor. I wrote on a south Florida island while drinking Sangria with a dear friend who gave me music and shells and water and let me drive her boat really fast. I wrote on the ride home from my grandmother’s funeral. I wrote with my fifteen-year-old terrier in my lap the day before he became a sweet memory. I knew the book would be wistful and harsh and full of hope. I wrote in conference centers full of eager, anxious writers. I wrote after long days at Disney World. I wrote while the battery in my car secretly died. I wrote while the sun came up in Hawaii. I wrote while the jarflies sang in the north Georgia twilight.
And one day, without a single space to call my own, I finished it.
And it’s true the book is full of all the things I’d hoped. And feared. It’s all in there. I don’t think I could have ever written it from a little desk, tucked into a neat corner, with complete peace and quiet, or gazing out a wide window at the sea, which would have only distracted me. Because, apparently I’m just not that kind of literary genius. I need chaos and color and flashing views through train windows, not a soft cushion or good light. I need someone pulling on my arm for more juice and dinner burning on the stove and piles of laundry moldering in the washing machine. I need to be jotting things down on old napkins at red lights, with the out-of-gas light blinking at me, living on the edge with a car full of melting groceries.
And now that I really take the time to consider it, I suppose I am a writing gypsy. It works for me.