I’ve done it outside. I’ve done it inside. I mostly do it at night, but I’ve done it first thing in the morning and in the lazy afternoons. I’ve done it at a highway rest stop in Michigan under a flickering street light and in a tent on a mountain while a thunderstorm raged overhead. I’ve done it in cars, on trains, and too many airplanes to count. I’ve done it during stolen moments at work. I’ve done it alone and with others. Sometimes I even do it in bed.
When I started thinking about where I write (yes write — what were you thinking?), I realized that even though these days I mostly do it at my desk, I still consider myself to be a nomadic writer. I’ve been writing in notebooks and journals since I was a teenager, and I rarely go anywhere without my writing notebook shoved in my oversized purse. And if I do, I inevitably find myself scribbling something on the back of a flyer or receipt and then taping it into my notebook so I don’t lose it.
At some point during my teens, I started writing my location at the top of every new entry in my notebook, along with the date and time. September 25, 2:15 pm, Algebra II. February 28, 11:50 pm, Perkins. I challenged myself to find interesting places to write. Halfway up a tree in the front yard, overlooking the street. My friends and I invented a ritual we called “cafe hopping,” where we’d start in one cafe, order one kind of drink, and do one writing prompt. Then we’d move to another cafe, order a different drink, and do another writing prompt. (It works best if A, you live in a college town with lots of cafes within walking distance of each other, B, you have lots of money to spend on fancy drinks, and C, you honestly have no better way to spend an entire day. In other words, if you’re a teenager.)
In college, I loved writing outside — on a low wall outside my dorm’s entrance, on the fire escape, in a chair outside the student forum, on a hidden bench behind the science building — but my favorite place to write was on the wide windowsill of the second-floor art studios, surrounded by art projects at varying stages of completion and empty easels waiting to hold a brand-new canvas. I loved the energy of the art studios, the tangible inspiration.
I always wondered why writers didn’t get to have studios like artists did — why wasn’t there a writing studio on campus? Instead of empty easels standing at attention, there should be long tables and cozy corners and comfy couches, with overstuffed bookshelves and pots of fresh coffee. Why should the artists get to have all the fun? Writers should have studios, too!
The first time I walked into StoryStudio Chicago, I thought, “THIS! This is what I was looking for in college!” It has long tables and comfy couches, bookshelves and coffee, and that tangible energy I sought in the art studio, that sense of something waiting to be created. I took classes and eventually managed to weasel my way into a job so I could spend as much time as possible there. Now I consider it to be my home away from home, and even though it’s also my day job, it hasn’t lost its magic. When I’m struggling with a scene or spinning my wheels in revisions, I’ll pack up my laptop and journals and head to the studio a few hours early, or stay a few hours late, to work on my own writing.
And even though I do most of my fiction writing at my computer — whether I’ve parked it on my desk at home or on a table at StoryStudio — I try to stay true to my nomadic journaling past. Every now and then I’ll grab my notebook and set off to find a new place to write. The stone ledge in front of the public library. An outdoor table at a local cafe. The hammock in my backyard.
So tell me, fellow nomadic writers: what’s the craziest place you’ve ever done it?
M. Molly Backes
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