You Won’t Believe Where Deb Molly Has Done It

2012 Debutante Molly BackesI’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?

35 thoughts on “You Won’t Believe Where Deb Molly Has Done It

  1. I once jotted a great line down on my husband’s back with a pen from my nightstand… OK, no I didn’t. Mmmm, I’m fairly plebian in this regard. Starbucks, airplane, front stoop – nothing too exciting!

    • Oooh, nice! I’m always putting my feet up on other chairs, and then have to remind myself that some people think that’s a gross enough offense to write Ann Landers about. At least, they did back in the 90s when I was still reading Ann Landers. 🙂

  2. I am a major iWriter — I find it incredibly difficult to write without a computer (though REwrites I have to do my hand), which limits my maneuverability. I did write at the stables while watching my daughter take riding lessons, but it would be way cooler if I could say I was actually ON the horse at the time.

    • At the stables is good enough for me! Seems like a very evocative location… though I would probably be distracted by my need to pet the horses and kiss them on their noses.

  3. Writing? You’re talking about writing? (Okay, you KNOW what I was thinking. Sorry. Just the way my mind works. *grin*)

    StoryStudio — such a fantastic concept! I just love the idea of there being a welcoming place for writers to convene, to be in the of atmosphere of linguistic creativity, to share the space and yet experience the strangely energizing kind of solitude you can when others are near but not intrusive.

    You are so lucky to work in such a place. 🙂

    • I did it all for you, Linda! And yes, StoryStudio is the best! I completely wasn’t planning to write about it when I started, but it seems obvious in retrospect. Once a month, we open the space from 9am to 7pm & have a “write-a-thon” — which I always say is like study hall for grown-ups. There’s unlimited coffee & snacks, and everyone settles in to work for a few hours (or all ten!). So fun, and such a great chance to get a lot of work done!

  4. Now you’re talking! Let’s see…I would have to say car. When my girls were really, really little, it was often the place where I’d find myself with some quiet time, so I’d pull out old receipts (why you should NEVER clean out your purse!) and get cracking in whatever parking lot or driveway (often our own) and write for as long as I had.

    • And then you get really engrossed in a scene and HOOONNNNNNNNNK! 🙂 I still write in the car — something about driving really helps to sort through storylines & character motivations. I always make sure I have my notebook nearby so I can jot notes as soon as I pull into a gas station.

  5. I regularly used to spend weekends at the beach writing. That’s not odd, really, but the beach is one of my happy places and I just loved it. I have yet to find a Colorado replacement.

    • The mountains? When I lived in New Mexico, I used to have a particular rock I would hike to & then spend an hour or two writing on… of course, I was in my early 20s, when sitting on a ROCK for an hour sounded like a good idea. Now I might bring a camping chair. 🙂

  6. When I was writing my book, I would often think of a passage while I was driving, or walking down the street, or on the treadmill. All those places where you’re allowed to let your mind wander. I’d grab my trusty iphone and log my flash of brilliance (or so it seemed until I looked at it again later) in the Notes app. Nothing crazy, but it did seem to come easier when I wasn’t sitting at a desk.

    I’m not one of those people who keeps a journal next to my bed, but I did once have a stroke of insight–the perfect headline!!–just as I was falling asleep. I jolted out of bed and got it down before it could escape. And let me just say, in this case it was as good in the morning as I thought.

    It was a story about pancakes, and the headline was: Griddle Me This! I’m still so proud.

    • LOVE IT.

      I’ve definitely rolled over in the middle of the night with some inspiration & texted it to myself, because my phone is usually near my bed, and functional paper/pen are not. To quote Tina Fey, “And then I wake up, and I have these little notes that say things like, “make everybody be twins” and “electric toilet.”” 🙂

  7. I LOVE that you used to write locations at the top of your entries – how fun that must be to go back and re-live where you were when you wrote them. And the cafe hopping idea is brilliant and I think it might be a fun exercise to try now.

    I can’t think of even one fun or exotic location where I’ve done it. Yes, I’m talking about writing here. The rest is a secret.

    • On the other hand, sometimes it’s depressing, like — you were in Florence and you couldn’t think of anything more interesting to write about than the dream you had where you were married to Michael Jordan??

    • Gorgeous! Our neighbors had one when I was a kid, and I loved to swing on it. Turns out you can’t really do that as an adult. 🙂

  8. I almost always write at my desk or kitchen table — but that it such a great idea to write *where and when* you’re writing. I love that! Most of the non-home places I’ve written have to do with my car: at the auto mechanic waiting for my car or in the car waiting for my kids. I’ve also written in the car (on my laptop) as my husband was driving.

    • I’ve definitely written in auto-repair places & oil-change places & hair-cutting places & doctor’s office waiting rooms & yoga studios & laundromats… sadly my smartphone has replaced my writing notebook in many of those situations, and not for the better.

  9. Love love love the idea of a writing studio – and StoryStudio with those “open house” days sounds AMAZING!

    This isn’t too exciting but I’ve written in the bathtub – my husband bought me a waterproof notebook and to this day, it’s one of my best gifts ever. 🙂

    • I’ve never figured out how to write in the bath, myself! I tried bath crayons, but they’re better for drawing monsters on the bath tiles than for actually writing.

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