Monday, July 05, 2010

Writing house fantasies


Does anybody else out there have fantasies about having a writing house?

I do. I know--I have a desk, and bookcases, and a computer, and space to write already, for which I'm grateful. Still, when I'm walking, or driving, or paddling a kayak, a little voice in my head will say, "That could be one. That could be a writing house. I could really get a lot of writing done there."

Writing houses--at least the ones I focus on in my imagination--are small, about the size of a study, but they're self-contained buildings like the ones at the Tiny House Company or Michael Pollan's writing house. They have a window or two, and a view that's just beautiful enough to reward a glance without encouraging prolonged staring out the window. They have lots of natural wood surfaces, including tables or desks, and room for some books. The writing house of my fantasy has electricity but not Internet access or phones. Sometimes, in the nineteenth-century version of my fantasy, I bend the rules a little and picture working in a screened-in porch attached to a beautiful old shingle-style house high above the water (a recent house I saw inspired this one). So--wood, light, air, and nature are the only real requirements.

Did you catch the fallacy in this particular fantasy? After I've swooned over cabins, screened porches, and other writing-house contenders for a while, somehow another voice always brings me back to that last sentence: "I could really get a lot of writing done there." The voice says, "It's not what's outside, but what's inside. It's not about the house; it's about you getting work done. You can do that perfectly well in your study at home if you just get at it."

The writing house fantasy helps, though, because when I see one of the houses, I get excited about writing all over again.

Updated to add more food for fantasy:
David McCullough's writing shed.
Roald Dahl's writing shed.
Mark Twain's garden study.
Virginia Woolf's writing house.

9 comments:

profacero said...

Well, I've got the same writing house fantasy and I think having one would help. But I'd have to live in it, and it would have to be far away from my regular house - the point would be, not to see all the other stuff there is to worry about in the regular house.

I've rented two different ones for vacations in the past year. One looked exactly like the fantasy, and one didn't; they both worked equally well, though. This was because they both had what I came to realize were key features. Here's the list.

1. Small kitchen and bathroom, so you can cook and bathe well enough but not be tempted to make fancy meals or take long baths; loft or sleeping alcove so you can sleep slightly screened from your work.

2. Work room with desk that has chair of right height. Facing it, an even wall of bookshelves, so you can see all your books in order, and in one place. To the left (the place of imagination), a window with a nice view.

(If it's nature, it really is best to the left; if it's urban, to the right would be OK; I realize that sounds irrational, but it's how my mild form of dyslexia, or whatever it is, shows up. I didn't realize this until someone else pointed out I've rearranged furniture in all the offices I've ever had so that certain things will be to the left of me and others to the right. I'm very right handed and while I'll compose with a screen or notebook right in front of me, I always look to the left to work out new ideas or put the screen to the left of me if I want to make an outline or a storyboard or something more tentative like that. This is why it's good to have the window on nature to the left, and the radio or the city or the reference books or anything that's already formed to the right.)

profacero said...

P.S. I think my other, more general and eccentric comment got eaten; oh well. My writing house would have an internet connection and a phone.

Of those I've experimented renting, both had these and it was a great help. At the time I didn't have an Internet connection to my real house, and didn't realize what an impediment it was. The phone is less important nowadays but still, having one lets me stay in and concentrate. In both writing houses I didn't have a car, but relied on public transportation; that was good, too, in terms of reduction of outside responsibilities.

The big advantage of having a writing house you live in part time is that you are separated from responsibilities of bigger houses and it's *all* creative space, nothing else.

Anyway, my writing house in fantasy would have the esthetic characteristics yours would, but in practice I've found these don't matter too much -- the smallness of them does, though, and the fact that they really are dedicated to writing.

profacero said...

AHA - my other comment didn't get eaten - now I'm redundant.

More: the other characteristic of a writing house is what is outside it. Where I actually live, I'm not comfortable going outside because of the weather and also the general environment. So I am restless inside my house and it's hard to concentrate.

In both the writing houses I rented, I was very comfortable with what was outside them. That meant I could go out for refreshing walks and adventures at any time, that would give me new perspectives, and so on. The fact that this was possible helped me stay in and concentrate.

LIGHT is also very important in writing houses. I can't afford to rent them in first world type countries, only in low rent countries, and these countries generally have weak florescent light or very low wattage. This is very bad for reading, for me anyway; I get bored and finally realize it's because it's so much effort to see. One doesn't want to ruin one's landlord by importing ecologically incorrect electric lamps or bulbs. On my list of Stuff To Take next time, therefore, are some form of battery operated lighting that will shed light in the right, bright, non harsh color. I have not yet found this product, but I am looking.

naptimewriting said...

Do I? Shut up. Every day.
And when we're house hunting (every other year or so) all it takes to have me screaming into the car with a pen to sign away my hope to ever be out of debt are the terms "writer's cottage in yard." Because as much as I want a room of my own with four walls that touch nothing, it's not realistic to have it nestled in the mountains near a clear burbling stream. In my own yard, though...
Sigh. Thanks feeding the fantasy with the links.

tenthmedieval said...

Oh yeah. I can even point to the house that made me first think this, or at least I could if I happened to be on the right Scottish high road. Probably two-bedroom cottage in a valley near Keith, walkable distance from the town (which is anonymously pleasant but not much of a distraction) but out of anyone's way except shepherds'. I would move up there in vacations with a car-boot full of books, a big tea-caddy and a computer and refuse to leave for some weeks except to stock the cupboards. The trouble being of course that in order to afford the place, and have the time, I will have to have written quite a lot (more) already...

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

You know those Chinese & Japanese scrolls that show huge mountains with picturesque pine trees, and either dramatic waterfalls or a tranquil lake, and down in the corner a little pavilion with a scholar working or being visited by someone? Those always make me want a little writing pavilion with a good view, even though in summer it would no doubt be hot and buggy, and in winter bitterly cold. It just looks like the sort of stripped-down place where you could get on with things without distractions.

undine said...

profacero, this gives me a whole new way to think about writing houses. I'd been thinking of them as a separate space, not one that I would live in, too. I always look to the left for ideas and writing, too.

naptimewriting--you, too? I didn't even know that some houses advertised 'writer's cottage in yard' and now will have to look for those, too. Since I can't afford one anyway, it doesn't cost any more to locate my fantasy writing house on the side of a mountain or by a stream.

tenthmedieval, that's the perfect writing house. Small, access to supplies in a nearby, non-exciting town--perfect.

Dame Eleanor, I know exactly what you mean. I like the open plan, but if I had one of those, I'd spend all my time talking to the cats in the yard (as if I don't do that already).

The Bittersweet Girl said...

I love this post: it crystalizes a desire I didn't know I had, beyond a general longing and some free-floating jealousy whenever I'd read about some author's study.

Case in point: I read an article a few years ago about Michael Chabon's writing house (I tried to find it to link, but no luck) and it made me hate him a little bit more (although I love his novels).

profacero said...

AHA, someone else who looks to the left for ideas and writing, yay!

I am trying to convince a friend to install a writing house in her backyard. She got married and her husband moved in with all his stuff, so the house is stuffed.

After all, lots of people put art studios in their backyards, so why not a writing house? And Garcia Marquez wrote 100 Years of Solitude in the garage apartment of their house -- hid himself in there for 18 months straight, emerging rarely, I hear.

There's a Peruvian writer I know who has to go and rent something out of town to write, too many distractions in the office and at home. He gets a lot done, too. And there's a winsome cottage near me being offered for sale as a writing house.