As I start a draft of this post, I’m sitting in a booth at a chain restaurant that calls itself a bakery, with the remains of a salad at one elbow and “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder—not his best song—playing overhead. There are three other people with computers or tablets glowing in front of them nearby.
I write at home, too, don’t get me wrong. My husband and I don’t have kids; it’s actually very quiet there, or it can be. Sometimes, the TV must be on. Sometimes there are video games that must be played.
I can deal with that. You know what I can’t deal with? The silent screams of the laundry in the basket or the dishes in the sink.
So while I wish for a room of one’s own, I do what I can with what I’ve got. I write during my lunch hours in sushi restaurants or campus coffee lounges. I write on my breezy back porch on summer weekends. On winter weekends, I write on the other end of the jostling couch while my husband reacts to hockey plays.
It doesn’t always work. Right now, back in the cafe? I forgot my noise-cancelling headphones at home, and another customer is clicking something in her hands two feet behind me. The sound is a snap-snap-snapping assault. She is enemy number one.
But then she leaves, or I get the word count done despite the incessant clicking. There’s always going to be a noise. There’s always going to be an excuse.
What’s more interesting than where I do my writing these days is where I write about.
I wrote The Black Hour, a mystery set on a Chicagoland college campus, while working on a Chicagoland college campus. I borrowed a few things. Lake Michigan, for instance, serves as the eastern border of both the real and imagined campuses. But it was important to me—and to my job—that the campuses remain separate. Story University moved up the lake shore several miles and gained a statue and a big event that Real University can’t claim. I gave the fake university a donor family name—and then gave that family a role to play in the novel.
Though I was careful not to borrow much from my host campus, I borrowed landmarks from Chicago liberally. “Borrowed” makes it seem as though I have no right to Chicago. I’ve lived here twelve years. The Black Hour is my Chicago book. I’ve already written about Indiana, the place I can’t keep myself from calling, still, “home.” But I’m also returning there daily as I write my next project.
I haven’t written about Chicago for the last time—but I might have to move. The least kept secret of writing is that leaving a place is the best way to start trying to recapture it with words on paper. Leaving a place is the best way to start appreciating what you gained from a place you’ve called home, and what you’ve lost from leaving it behind. You gain, actually and figuratively, the distance necessary to write it, to try to get it right.
Do we ever get it precisely right? The attempts are part of the writing journey, and you know what? They delight the folks back home.
What place inspires you to keep trying to get its details right?
Photos: http://www.cobblehillpuzzles.com and Lori Rader-Day