Before I adopted a laptop computer, I did most of my writing in a space on the third floor of my house surrounded by books. There was some natural light, but no comfortable view outside to either inspire or distract. My writing surface was a heavy assemble-it-yourself office desk from Woolco purchased decades before IKEA became a cult. I sat on a wooden swivel chair on wheels that my father had purchased used for his office in the fifties. A long-necked adjustable lamp provided the light. My preference was for warm incandescent light focused on my writing area while the rest of the space was in shadow. I still miss the old computer screen. There was something about the green text glowing from a dark background that made it easy to slip into a writing trance. Even now for writing drafts I sometimes seek out a word-processing program that allows me to select background and font colours.
My space also had a reading chair that had belonged to my great-grandfather. The wine-coloured fabric was quite thread-bare in spots and a few times I needed to repair the box with the springs that cushioned the seat, but it was a comfortable chair. I recall sitting down with John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire in the late afternoon after writing all day and finding myself a hundred pages in by the time I was called down to make supper.
Since I adopted a laptop computer I find I am less tied to an “office” space and I tend to seek out comfort and atmosphere according to my mood. For some years now my favorite writing spot is in a wine-coloured recliner I found at the MCC store, which allows me a side view just above the treetops of a 115-year-old school built in a Queen Anne architectural style. I can also gaze along the slope of a street rising westward, which gives the lie to the notion that our terrain is flat. We do live in a valley.
I move from place to place within the apartment. I write on the dining table, the bar height counter if I need to stand; I recline on the sofa, or work at an antique Queen Anne desk in the room designated the “office”. I also write on the balcony, especially when I work in pencil in a hardcover notebook. In twilight, I often write notes on my iPad out there while enjoying the ambience of being above, yet part of, the street below.
The most important studio still remains the space in the imagination where the story and the characters live and are allowed to play. I find that listening to instrumental music, mostly classical, often helps me to go to and remain in that special place. I choose music that fits what I’m writing about in some way, as long as it does not have words. Opera is distracting even when the words are in a language I don’t understand. The only music with words I will listen to while writing is the music of Dene drummers singing Tłı̨chǫ words. I think too that the rhythm and cadence of the music I listen to seeps into the rhythm and cadence of my sentences.