Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Writer's Retreat

I inherited my love of reading and writing from my father. Although he never chose to take a stab at publication, Dad did produce some impressive poetry and essays that he shared with me when I was old enough to appreciate them. We also had more bookcases in the house than any other item of furniture. When I was small, I used to leaf through Dad's volumes on Roman warfare, Canadian naval history, and other subjects about the world's fighting past, and marvel over the vivid illustrations and photos.

One book that held special attraction for me, although its title and author escapes me now, was about writer's workplaces. I wanted to be an author when I grew up, so I'd study the photos accompanying each writer's essay. Did I want to produce my masterpieces on a rough-hewn wooden worktable overlooking acres of daisy-spotted fields? Or in a garret studio in a stately Victorian home on a leafy city sidestreet?

So far, I haven't acquired either, but I'm not so sure I want to now. I've come to appreciate that writers transcend their surroundings if they're dedicated to their craft: I've hammered out first drafts in tomblike libraries and madcap airport lounges, accomplished rewrites in my local Starbucks, and sent the completed manuscript to my second book, The Man Who Got Away, during a break in a trade show I was attending. My 'permanent' workspace is an imitation cherrywood desk whose sleek surface is taken up by a flatscreen monitor, candlestick telephone, scanner, keyboard (which is in desperate need of a cleaning!) photos of Big Jack Zelig and Darla, a pet ferret who passed away last year, and a mountain of books (The Practical Writer by Eiben and Gannon, Sacrificed by Henry Klein, The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogers by Amy Gilman Srebink, We Are Not Afraid by Seth Cagin and Philip Dray, and Ship Ablaze by Edward T. O'Donnell).

The key to being a prolific writer is adaptability: be ready and able to work wherever life and fortune happen to situate you. Your dream workspace will come to you eventually, but only if you've been able to produce excellent work in less ideal surroundings.

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