Controlling Your Writer’s Cave

During my recent trip to Chicago to lead writing workshops at Karitos, I had the opportunity to talk to the mom of a young writer. Seems young writer had enjoyed one of my workshops (yea, me!) and had said as much to mom…and mom was simply offering a very kind thank you. She bumped in to me in the parking lot of the hotel where I’d just returned from having dinner with my long-lost (well, sorta. I’m pretty sure he always knew where he was) pal John Metych, whose last name I now pronounce correctly! For those one or two of you who don’t know, John is the writer of the very cool comic series Sniper and Rook. You should check it out!

But anyway, it was fun to talk to the mom with her writer-daughter there because I was able to tell them both things that I think (hope?) will aid their relationship as the young writer grows.

One of the things we talked about was writing environment and getting into the groove while writing…and breaking that groove. A writer’s cave…or back porch or wherever you write…should be set up in such a way as to get UNINTERUPTED creative time. I strongly stress uninterrupted because sometimes when a writer gets in a groove, when the fingers are flying on the keyboard almost faster than the writer can think (not a difficult task for me!), it’s very hard to get that groove back.

I told her the story of me working on my first novel and trying to get BJ to understand that. You see, that’s one of the things I tried to explain to writer-daughter’s mom and writer-daughter herself: people who aren’t writers will NEVER “get” writers. Try though they may and good-hearted though they may be, it just won’t happen.

So when we lived in Loretto, TN, I was teaching at UNA and BJ had quit her job to stay home with the kids. Her being home was a new adjustment for us and she worked hard at it. After a few polite interruptions, I had to tell her no interruptions, period. Wouldn’t you know it, not long after (not in the same day, silly!), I’m on a writing tear and she pops her head in and says “I’m not interrupting; I just wanted to know if you needed anything.”

Now, only a thick-skulled Yankee would not see she was, in her mind, being just as sweet as she could be—even whispering the words. To her, it was a thoughtful thing to do (to me, too, but bear with me). But it was an interruption, sweet though it may have been, and jolted me out of the world that exists only in my head and that I was trying desperately to get onto paper (well, computer file).

It’s a bit like those stop signs (or lights) they put on the highways. You’re rockin’ along at 65 miles per hour (because that is the speed limit!) and out of nowhere a stop sign pops up. You have to stop. Yes, you get going again, but you start from a dead stop and it takes time to pick up speed again, time that you might not have during that sitting.

So I think writer-daughter’s mom walked away with a bit more understanding of her weird writer-daughter.

I told writer-daughter she still has to listen to mom; she’s 14, after all!


Filed under writing

8 responses to “Controlling Your Writer’s Cave

  1. A writer’s space is definitely a very sacred haven, and any interruption can elicit a number of responses. For me, I want to pull out my bow and send an arrow through the person’s eye. Granted, that wouldn’t help me get my writing done since I would then have to 1) clean up the blood and 2) feel guilty. Good post, Rolandman (na na na na na na na na ROLANDMANN!!!)

  2. Great post! I enjoyed your article and completely relate. Good guidance for a mother and her young writer-daughter.

  3. Thanks for writing this, Roland! I totally agree. Whenever I apartment search, I try desperately to find a place that has AT LEAST a den that I can call my cave, if not a whole second bedroom that I can set up as an office. It’s difficult to get others to understand the mental process behind writing when they aren’t writers as well. It’s those rare moments when the characters start controlling themselves on the page, and you’re merely the vessel. And when those moments are interrupted, it can be so hard to find them again.

  4. Oh this is SO accurate! You are in another world, listening intently and the Non-Writer, who hated writing that LOOONNNGGG email just cannot grasp what they have done.

    Most helpful thing to do is to sit them down, tell them a really compelling story and RIGHT at a very important point simply stop, walk out of the room and go to the store.

    Call them from the store and as SOON as they are on the phone, say “OH! I remember the rest of the story…” and put a crying baby up to the phone. Then hang up.

    Do this all day. Just as they are about to go to sleep. Interrupt them whenever they are talking.

    Of course, these are comedically cruel, not for real life, suggestions.

    But if they are dense, I am tempted to use them.

    😉 [in moderation]


  5. Absolutely right. This is true no matter what your ‘job’ is…people just don’t get it. Luckiliy, living alone has its benefits in this area. NOW, if somebody would just tell the cats…

  6. I would love to have an MFA program. There was a moment in time when … do you know a writer named Sigrid Nunez? I love her, I’ve always loved her, but I actually sought her out after her first book and met with her, and then there was a brief moment in time when I thought of going to Yaddo. But then I got a job, and I’m such a work horse that I just did that, and it actually took me a long time. It took a long time for me to give myself permission to write.

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