Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Sacrosanctity of Your Writing Space

No one should have to move while enmeshed in the writing of the great American novel. But I just did. Sixty-three thousand words into it, and my husband and I decide to downsize. For good reasons, though. Not because we’re in dire straits, but because we shifted our priorities.

Now, there's one thing I would never do, not in a million years, and that is: display photos of my writing space. I’m not even sure when I discovered this mythical taboo, but I have to tell you, I think it came down from on-high, and not from mouths of men. In my gut, I have always known, ever since I started to write, to never cross that line, that this was more than mere superstition.

It’s possible a writing instructor or two has reinforced the inviolability of exposing your inner sanctum during otherwise discussions about the high stakes poker games of storytelling, and maintaining some semblance of mystery. But right before I packed up my computer at my old writing space, I decided it was not in violation to snap a few photos of the old chamber, provided certain failsafe guidelines were followed. (See 7 guidelines below.)

What initially gave me the idea for this essay was seeing a gosh-dern writers contest online, which was soliciting submissions from wordsmiths, asking writers everywhere to send in photos of their writing spaces. Shouldn't a writers website know better? Flickr is propagandizing this stuff, too. Writers are exposing themselves all over the web.

I’m sorry, but putting up a photo of your sacred space for public scrutiny is like opening the inside of your tomb. Only your unseen in-mates should know what goes on in there, and your most intimate friends. Take photos of your dog or cat, not your writing space. (Notice I have even swirled the inside of a picture still haging on the wall of my old space, so no one can discern its meaning.  But showing one of my feline familiars is okay.)

Trust me. Your writing space should be treated as sacrosanct; it is your altar of creativity, your manifold of ideas, your deepest darkest secrets wafting amid the collective dust of writer’s block and ecstatic breakthroughs. It’s personal! What you conjure here is supposed to be enfolded into words, painstakingly gathered and collected amid bookshelves, writing pads, scribbled scraps, dust bunnies, and preserved for eternity in the fallen crumbs of your gluten-free muffin. Your writing space is not for public consumption. You’re already on the chopping block with every word you write—someone out there just might see your work—so don’t give it up with a “picture worth a thousand words.” Yikes!  Put it instead in your manuscript. I’m just saying, “Just don’t do it!”...

...that is, unless you’re leaving it behind, like I did. And only after you’ve stowed away all your loot. When my old writing space was emptied and compacted, reshuffled and organized, and safely stashed inside U-Haul book boxes, I decided to chronicle the empty shell that was now devoid of my secrets. My old writing space had already served its time.  And as for me, I had already gleaned all I ever would from its confines.

If you must expose anything about your writing space, do so only under these conditions:

1.  You’re physically moving it to another location.
2.  You’ve emptied all your shelves, and there’s not one book left in sight.
3.  There's no chance you'll ever write in that space again.  Not ever.

4.  Photos of boxes are okay, as long as they’re sealed, and no one can read what’s written on them. (I have liquefied the text on the boxes in my photographs that violate this rule.)

5.  If you’re trying to impress anyone, even with the image of the empty shell of your old writing space, it’ll jinx the quality of your work in the future, the same as it would in your writing. [Remember: the act of writing itself can reveal more about you than perhaps you think you know.  So monitor yourself, because your negative ego always lies: “This’ll impress ‘em.” Same goes for photographs of your writing space. One of the reasons your writing space is sacred is, it's where you deal with your shadow, as well as that pesky ego.

6.  On the occasion you’re trying to show how derelict your writing space is--messy, oppressive, meek, sparse, cluttered--that, too, is a BIG no-no. Because you’re still trying to impress someone. It’s merely the flipside of point #5’s coin.

7.  Regarding utility strangers visiting your onsite space: phone jack installers, DSL people, electric and gas men, or someone like the piano moving guy who just delivered my repaired fallboard.  These are unavoidable circumstances, and for the most part, these people don’t count, as they’re “on the job” themselves, and not really interested in your space.

Now, if you want to mitigate someone's probing curiosity about why your desk is sitting under the chandelier in the dining room, what you do is act like it’s no big deal. Don’t bring attention to yourself by exhibiting morbidity (or arrogance) in the face of exposure. Also, another thing you can do is, put a protective light around yourself and your space beforehand.  (I like to use the colors of the rainbow because it gives me more vividness in my visualization, as well as protecting the full spectrum of me, represented by my seven chakras: safety/security (red), creativity/sexuality (orange), power and emotions (yellow), things of the heart (green), communication (blue), intuition and sensitivity (indigo), and my connection to the divine (violet or white). Like I said, all the colors of the rainbow.

I hope in some small way these guidelines help preserve the sanctity of writing spaces everywhere.  Sending best wishes to everyone for a wonder-filled holiday season, and a new year that brings many new possibilities to light.