My Studio: Leo Brent Robillard

Like most writers, I have a computer and a room to house it. It is a good room. Pale walnut floors. Slate-coloured walls. If I stand, I can see out the window across the back deck and over the gardens to the lake. It is tastefully decorated with my wife’s black and white photography. My guitars are close at hand. But I have never considered this space as my studio.

Libraries, coffee shops, and other cheap office space

Like most writers, I have a computer and a room to house it. It is a good room. Pale walnut floors. Slate-coloured walls. If I stand, I can see out the window across the back deck and over the gardens to the lake. It is tastefully decorated with my wife’s black and white photography. My guitars are close at hand. But I have never considered this space as my studio.

To begin, I write longhand in messy, fat, spiral-bound, 5-subject notebooks overflowing with research, clippings, doodles, and drafts. My computer is a tool for editing.

This low-tech approach to writing has its advantages. I am not bound to any one room. To electrical hookups or battery life. I can write anywhere. And I do.

But admittedly, I am a creature of comfort. Although I enjoy the outdoors, I will not play victim to its precariousness while I write. I do not want my pages ruffled by the wind.

I need climate control. Coffee. Anonymity.

I wrote more than half of Leaving Wyoming at a windowless study carrel in the MacOdrum Library of Carleton University. And I wrote it in three days. Conversations came and went in tiny Doppler pockets. People wandered the stacks by my desk. I was comforted by their presence, but uninterrupted and unbothered. When I could do no more, I stood and stretched and crossed the agora for a coffee. I left my belongings trustingly behind. Nobody steals notebooks.

Yes, there are advantages.

Drift was a product of the Second Cup. There are coffee stains on the notebook pages. Its prose is infused with the scent of freshly ground beans and the sibilant hiss of an espresso machine. I was on leave from my teaching job, and I treated the establishment like an office – a reason to wake up and get out. The owner, complicit in my madness, treated me as she did the furniture. I was lovingly ignored.

Houdini’s Shadow was a hobo, by comparison. Forced to move from place to place. Scrawled in several different notebooks, scraps of paper, and yes, even a napkin. Really. Like a junkie, I sought out furtive moments in dark corners to indulge my habit between running my children to practices and rehearsals. Any port in a storm.

But whether these impromptu studios bloomed out of necessity or desire is unimportant. I wouldn’t live without them now.

What I want in a writing space is a quiet thrum. Human contact, without conversation. Ambient noise. My home office is too Scandinavian in its simple perfection. I need Ondaatje’s “chaos in nets,” on and off the page. Maybe I just want to be reminded that I am not alone. Maybe that’s why I write. Isn’t it why we all read?