Wednesday, June 8, 2011

IDEAL CONDITIONS?

John Claude Bemis

When I got the offer for the Clockwork Dark trilogy back in the spring of 2007, I was, of course, ecstatic. But as a few months passed, some serious practical concerns arose. How was I going to juggle all this? My wife and I were beginning our journey as new parents. I was teaching elementary school, a demanding although incredibly rewarding job. Having time—and more importantly, having balance— to be an involved parent, to teach, and to finish the books just didn’t seem possible. So we took a big leap. I left the classroom.


Beyond tightening our belts and bringing in extra income by teaching writing workshops and doing school visits, the biggest challenge at first was finding a place to write.


Philosophically I subscribe to the Faulkner model of being inspired every morning at 9 o’clock. And I wanted to follow the example of my friend and critique partner, YA author J.J. Johnson. She doesn’t own a desk. She can write anywhere, anytime—whether that’s in a sandwich shop or with young Jedis running around her. But I discovered I couldn’t get much done with my infant daughter in the house. I needed somewhere else to write.


I tried the local coffee shop in my hometown, but every other person would inevitably sit down to chat. I eventually retreated to a McDonalds (shudder) out by the interstate. I never ordered anything beyond a coffee, but nobody bothered me and I could log a six hour day in a chemical-ketchup-reeking booth. Not glamorous, but it worked for several months.


Then one day a friend caught me there. “Come out to our farm,” he offered. “I’ve got a cabin you can use.” I wasn’t exactly picky given my other options, but this cabin was a far cry from my vision for the comfy author’s studio. It was dusty and cobweb-filled with only a make-shift desk and an old chair. No internet. Barely any cell reception. No central air or coffee maker. It did have a little radiator heater, but in the winter when it’s in the lower thirties (inside the cabin!), it takes hours for that heater to get things warm enough for me to take off my gloves.


But what a godsend that cabin has turned out to be! I love it. I love not having email and phone distractions. I love bundling up in all my long johns in the winter. I love my routine of clearing away all the spiders in the summer. I love being startled by the gumballs hitting the tin roof and having all the dogs on the farm gather around the door.


I’ve gotten better at writing like my friend J.J, at being productive despite the environmental constraints. I now write some at home while my daughter is dressing baby dolls at my feet. I can slip my thoughts into a storyline anywhere—sitting on the couch with my wife “watching” Dancing With The Stars or pushing a cart at the grocery store. I relish a long drive to Atlanta or Nashville where I can spend eight hours thinking out story ideas.


But there’s nothing like the feeling of walking through the early morning dew out to the cabin— a laptop bag over one shoulder, a lunch bag on the other. So far, I’ve finished four books out there on the farm. I’ve been present of one cat’s death (not my fault) and the birth of a foal (see photo). That cabin may not be the dream writing studio, but it’s pretty perfect by me, spiders and dust and all.

6 comments:

  1. when i saw you speak at Quail Ridge Books last year i wondered about your schedule. you had clearly done talks before writers and readers before, but i had no idea how you were able to juggle speaking, writing and 'a 40-hour day job'. when i read you were a teacher, that question only grew larger. (i was an elementary school librarian for 5 1/2 years and i know how demanding teaching is)

    my own writing room has become a dumping ground for clothes, papers, boxes, CDs and boardgames. in short, it's filled with all sorts of distractions.

    i find i get my best writing done on my older mac laptop, the one with a lousy wifi card that can barely see my wireless router at a distance of 12 feet. whether in the living room or our bedroom, i can get more done on that machine than i can anywhere with the temptations of the interwebs for 'research.' my busride from garner to chapel hill every werk day provides a good two hours of line editing time.

    however, none of this compares to the beauty of that cabin! what an amazing gift to have been granted. we've lived in an old farmhouse, one built long before the word "insulation" was invented, one where i woke up one morning to find my pillow literally frozen to the wall, so i understand trying to function in the cold. still, a cabin of one's own? heat or cold be danged -- what a great space!


    -- Tom

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  2. A pillow frozen to the wall! Wow, Tom. Thankfully I've never had anything actually freeze while I've been writing.

    Keep that old laptop going. It'll serve you well.

    Thanks for your comments. Hope to cross paths again.

    Best
    John

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  3. What a great writing space - frostbite, spiders, and all. Nature can be such an inspiration. Of course, now I'll have to break the news to my husband that I, too, will need a cute cabin to write in (does an aluminum garden shed count?). Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your writing spot, John! Sounds like a wonderful place. Nature nourishes my thoughts when I write. I have my desk planted in front of our upstairs home office/study window, where I can look out into the trees. A spot for Izzy-cat on one end of the desk (Stella-cat used to sit there, but Izzy has claimed it and me.) When the deer walk through and eat, we both watch their progress while they eat, although I do not get near as excited as the cat!

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  5. I LOVE YOUR CABIN. Kind of reminds me of Hemingway's writing shack behind his house in Piggot Ark.

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  6. Thanks so much, all! A little nature goes a long way for inspiring the creative spirit. Trudi, good luck getting your cabin! That aluminum garden shed might work. I think Philip Pullman uses a little garden shed, but then he's English, so it's undoubtedly charming.

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