I worked at our local craft fair today in support of our local crafters and the West Custer County Library. How nice to see money changing hands and staying close to home. How nice to meet and greet the neighbors.
In terms of the merchandise, I was especially attracted to the hand-crafted pens encased in rare wood. Looking at the pens, I caught myself thinking, “If I had a pen like that, I am certain that I would be a better writer. I wouldn’t be able to help myself. The words would just bleed-out on the page.”
And then, I pulled myself together. I would probably lose the pen before I finished whatever I was writing. I’m not good with pens. But the lure of the pen triggered a few memories.
One is a tongue-in-cheek poem, “Advice to Writers,” found in Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins. The beginning of the poem reads: “Even if it keeps you up all night / wash down the walls and scrub the floor / of your study before composing a syllable. / Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way. / Spotless is the niece of inspiration.”
I dream that a new pen will help me. Billy Collins knows better. He would laugh at the conceit. We tend to think that if we just had a clean desk, an expensive pen, a new computer, a freshly sharpened #2, yellow pencil, a view of the garden, or a room of our own (see Virginia Woolf), we would be better writers. What a joke.
Writing is hard- especially when you are not in the mood. A second Collins poem from the Sailing collection is “Winter Syntax.” It begins: “A sentence starts out like a lone traveler / heading into a blizzard at midnight, / tilting into the wind, one arm shielding his face, / the tails of his thin coat flapping behind him.”
Billy Collins speaks to the barrier between pen and paper using words: the Italian sculptor, Giancarlo Neri speaks to the barrier using wood and steel.
In 2005, a 30-foot high desk and chair were installed on Hampstead Heath, an 800-acre park in North London. Neri titled his sculpture “The Writer.” How the desk loomed! It was big. It was bare. And it perfectly captured the immensity of the task.
Note the scale between the sculpture and the people below. If you are a writer, you can appreciate the symbolism. I loved this piece, and I returned a number of times just to sit under the desk.
Adults and kids brought grappling hooks and ropes with which to climb onto the chair. For some, it was a jungle gym. For those who were writers, we come to the bare desk with dread: the metaphor was clear.
I’ve come to realize that you don’t need a new pen, a desk, or a room of your own. The Guardian runs a series… something like The Writer’s Room, and each Saturday, the newspaper features a different writer. They photograph the writer’s room and interview the writer as to how the space works for him or her.
Over a number of months, it is interesting to see how every writer’s requirements differ. One of my favorite writers is Michael Morpurgo. He has written primarily young adult literature, but his novels (War Horse in particular) are equally interesting to adults.
The July 4, 2009 Guardian featured Morpurgo who said, “for many years, I wrote on our bed in the house. But there were complaints about ink on the sheets and dirty feet on the bed.”
I love the ‘there were complaints…’
- Describe your ideal writing space.
- Do you have a routine? Why or why not? In terms of production, would a routine help?
- Looking at the two Billy Collins poems (beginnings of poems – you’ll need to look up the poems and read them in their entirety) write about waiting for the muse – the stalls and the distractions that keep you from the task at-hand.