writer in progress: write everywhere

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. -- Abraham Maslow

One of the best things about being a writer is how you can work anywhere. And I mean it: anywhere. If you're blessed with a pen and a notebook and the merest scrap of thought, you can write. No matter what.

I think that's a benefit of starting to write immediately after college: I already knew I could do homework just about anywhere. I'd drag some element of my work with me, no matter where I went. Flight delayed? I read my philosophy assignment. A few spare minutes waiting for friends to show up? Sketch out the points of that essay due on Friday.

I carried that mentality right into my writing life. My writing studio is everywhere that I am.

I never had a chance to believe that I needed perfect conditions to write: one of the many huge myths about creative living. (Maybe a corollary to the "I have to be inspired to work" myth? Sounds like it.)

Perfect conditions? Who needs 'em? If I had to find the absolutely perfect place, time, moment, chair, desk, computer, air quality, idea, word, etc., to write? I'd never write. Nothing's perfect.

So I practice working with the imperfect. There's plenty of imperfect.

I never go anywhere without paper (probably three different pads or books, of different sizes) and pens (about seven, all different colors and types). Even if I'm just dashing out somewhere, I stick an index card in my pocket and grab a pen and I'm ready, ready for anything.

It's a skill, and it's well worth developing: learn to do your creative work anywhere and everywhere.

By now, I've written in scores of caf├ęs and coffeehouses; on beaches and in parks; sitting in the bathtub during a tornado warning; scribbling gingerly on my niece's back while she napped. I've written with numb fingers at an abandoned picnic table in February, in dozens of waiting rooms (perfect for an essay on anxiety). In an Omaha concert hall, in a jasmine-scented garden where my sister was dog-sitting. I've written in airports and on planes; on trains; perched on an English wall; on a little-used staircase; on a bench by the harbor in St. George's, Bermuda.

I've written in pain, while half asleep, surrounded by noise, surrounded by a throbbing silence. Many, many times I write in the absolute dark.

Conditions to write? There are no conditions to write. Something to write with, and someone to hold the pen. That's about all it takes.

Of course there's more to it than that, like a mind that's willing to write. Sometimes mine isn't. I try to wrestle with it, and make it more and more often one that is. To will to write, and then to actually write: this is probably the whole secret to having a writing life.

I'm guessing it's true of other creative fields as well. I've spent lots of spare moments in random places sketching out ideas that later became pillows, scarves, and hats for our store. And I've knitted in lots of places... again, it's the willingess and having the tools at hand: that's all it takes.

I know it can sound like I have the ideal situation, and in many ways I do. But it certainly isn't a life full of unclaimed hours and idyllic writing afternoons. It's full of family, the shared joys and shared concerns that come with living together; it's full of phones ringing and errands to run and laundry and busyness. Writing time doesn't come easily. I think it never does.

You have to rush out and find it, literally find the time, anywhere you look.

Maslow said (a bit grumpily it sounds to me) that if you have a hammer, you see nails everywhere.

I would echo, far more cheerfully, that if you have a notebook and a pen, every place looks like a writing studio. And that's how we get the work done.

So work where you are, with whatever you have. Embrace the imperfect now. You never know what might come of it: it just might be your masterpiece.

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