Trading Headspaces

Recently, a writing friend and I were trading tips on juggling multiple projects, which is a tricky endeavor at the best of creative times. For the past year I’ve had two concurrent projects: a young adult manuscript, and co-writing work on a podcast drama. It’s exciting, invigorating work that nevertheless, sometimes, ends with me inspired to work on one project, feeling guilty for not working on another, and then getting no writing done at all.

But since I joined the Writers’ Room crew, I’ve had a great system going. I usually work on the podcast when I’m at home, or on my lunch break at work, and then when I go into the Room, I focus on my manuscript. Even if I do sneak some podcast work in there, I don’t leave the Room without adding at least a page to the YA.

It’s a system that’s worked wonderfully for me these past few months, and it’s a system that would not have been available to me prior to this fellowship. The quest for writing space has been an ongoing one for me, based on necessity and opportunity rather than any kind of creative fit. I live in a college neighborhood, in a second-floor apartment I’ve written tens of thousands of words in… but when our downstairs neighbors turn on their sound system, I tend to abandon all hope of productivity.

Concentration isn’t always easy for me. My startle reflex can be, in a word, enthusiastic. Since that tends to preclude coffee shops and the like as workspaces, I’ve spent a lot of time auditioning alternative places to write. Sometimes they work. And sometimes it feels like the universe is trying to ensure that I never write another word.

Here is an unranked, incomplete list of places I have written:

Various classrooms at work: As university staff, I have dozens of rooms to choose from, at least. Pros include a studious atmosphere and the occasional comfy armchair. Cons include nervous pacers, cell phone talkers, and those days when everywhere you look has a meeting or event in session and you end up wandering campus with your laptop like the ancient mariner.

The library: On its face, this looked perfect for me. The aggressive silence of libraries is a trope for a reason, right? Turns out that a room full of about twenty people trying to be quiet is not that quiet. And about halfway through a tricky chapter, a very nice woman started asking me why, exactly, young people worked so hard these days.

(She was really sweet, but eventually I had to pretend I was leaving so I could hide up in the stacks and finish.)

On planes: Once or twice a year, this will work out great. No distractions and no shortage of white noise. But these are the one or two magical times a year that there’s an empty seat next to me and I don’t have to watch my elbows quite so closely. Of course, there are always variables to watch out for. I had a row to myself on a recent flight, and just as I was ready to dive in… the entire row in front of me reclined far back enough to snap my laptop shut.

On the train platform: I’ve only tried this one twice, and not with any sort of forethought – there’s at least an hour between trains on my commute line, so if I miss it, writing is theoretically a great option. It was also, in both cases, a magical bat signal for street harassment. Not very successful, in the end, but I’m an optimist. I’d try again.

As writers, we have to work with what – and where – we have. And make no mistake, we always do. But to have a dedicated writing space is a tremendous privilege, and for me, it’s been like nothing else: I have never been that great at scheduling creativity, but when I come here, I know I’m going to leave with at least a few more words in my manuscript file. I hope to see more spaces like the Room in the broader writing community, and more fellowships like mine to make these spaces accessible to as many writers as possible.
Rebecca Mahoney, 2017 WROB Fellow

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