When I think about the spaces that have helped me write, I think first of sun-dappled patios, or wood-panelled libraries, or log cabins tucked into wintry woods. I think of ten-day retreats in small-town prairie monasteries. I think of the magical scene in Little Women (2019) when Jo fills her childhood attic with pages and pages of scrawled-by-candlelight genius.
Certainly, libraries and attics and coffee-shop patios have been high points, aesthetically, of my writing life. But when I really consider the spaces that have been creatively generative, I realize that as long as I’m left alone in relative comfort for large blocks of time, it doesn’t really matter where I am, since the goal is to disappear from my surroundings and into the work.
Walking around, looking at things, talking to people, and experiencing all the sensorial, tangible details of existing in a body are what prompt me to write, but when it comes to actually developing a poem or patching together an essay, I need to totally forget where I am, whether tangled in computer cords in bed or head-down in a grad student lounge cubical while people mill around microwaving lunches. I wrote my best journal entries as a kid in a musty, cramped closet in my childhood basement—not as filmic a site for epiphany as Jo March’s, but it worked. These places let me slide into a deeply unphotogenic but exhilarating single-mindedness.
I’ve found it’s easiest to disappear when surrounded by books. Books taught me the trick of falling out of the world and into words, and the best books returned me to the world with new ways of perceiving or articulating it. I’ve never had a proper office or writing studio, but I’m grateful for the many moveable imaginative spaces, propped up by bookstacks and carved out by solitude, that allow me to concentrate and create.