On Writing: Find the right “space to create” — guest post by Coral Jewell

Note from Allyson: Coral’s post is dedicated to author Doris Lessing (1919 – 2013), who passed away yesterday at age 94. The title of the series to which Coral responds here, “Will Come the Words,” was inspired by the following:

“But the essential question is, Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas — inspiration.  If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn.” ~ Doris Lessing

 

Coral's study

Coral’s study

 

by Coral Jewell

As an emerging writer, I, like others, have had some difficulty finding a comfortable area of the house in which to write. So with curiosity I read Stephanie Dickison’s guest post “Will Come the Words: writers & their creative spaces.”

This year’s writing retreat at Petite Anse Hotel in Grenada was a huge learning curve for me. When it was over I arrived back in Toronto inspired, and confident that even though I had never written anything more than letters to friends, and exercises during Allyson’s workshops, I could now start writing about my childhood for my family and friends.

I had what I thought was the perfect space: a recently decorated office in my smallish Upper Beach house. It’s painted a cozy soft tan. Outside the window stands a regal Norway pine tree. Elegant printed sheers filter the southwest sun. The lighting inside is excellent with wall sconces and a dedicated desk lamp. Family photos and original art surrounded me, along with mementos from travel, including the little mottled blue stone that was a gift from our retreat’s yoga instructor, Dale Synett-Caron. It was all I needed to start, so I thought.

I tried to write but couldn’t get going.

The words didn’t come as they did in Grenada.

I thought the vintage oak chair was the problem as the cushions kept sliding around or falling off, distracting me. I experimented with several others from the house. They were comfortable, but still I sat there staring around the room. I looked at my favourite possessions, the exquisite Murano glass thimble, my teacher’s retirement brass bell, the suspended wooden puffin flying above my head, wondering why the myriad of ideas buzzing in my head were not flowing to pen and paper.

Somehow, the dream catcher suspended in the window was blocking not only bad dreams, but also my creative process.

Coral’s kitchen, where the writing flows

So, I began writing in the kitchen.

The flow certainly happened there. I wrote dozens of first drafts.

Then came challenges: I ran out of material I thought I needed to flesh out those stories. My siblings couldn’t find the suitcase of old letters I needed; I was in a holding pattern until they were located. My hard drive crashed. I had made hard copies, but everything had to be retyped.

In the meantime, I contined to write in the kitchen, turning back to and refining a few stories I liked, my memoirs progressing. A trilogy of stories was birthed: “Green Blood,” “Jellied Blood,” “Spilt Blood.” I also wrote “Not One’s Average Sunday Afternoon Drive” (an account of my family visiting the leper wing of a Queensland hospital), and “Up From the Creek” (my father captures a platypus and shows us). I wrote a composition for my School of the Air homework and the teacher reads it on air.

I completed several stories inspired by Allyson’s “Wordless Wednesday” photos. The horses rolling around in the grass near Twillingate, Newfoundland, along with a March trip to New York prompted my “Memoirs of A Carriage Horse.” The photo of a tractor pulling a massive bale of hay in a very narrow laneway reminded me of a trip to Guernsey last year. My “Lovely Laneways” can be read as a short travel guide.

What I have discovered is that, like Stephanie Dickinson who wrote the series intro, I need an expanse in order to organize that mental morass, condense, find the kernel, and get down to the actual scribing process. For me, there is something more important than the things in the space.

Yes, I like the surrounds. From where I sit at the Antique Duncan Fife table, the vintage Austrian Crystal Chandelier overhead, I can view the pleasant jumble of Tuscan, Mexican, and No Name Brand pottery jugs plates and platters that glow atop the dated 1980s oak cupboards. I can also see outside, gazing at massive fall coloured oak trees against the brilliant blue sky. (My cat is my constant companion. He has made his bed in what was intended to be my garden windowbox and guards the backyard whilst supervising my writing — when he isn’t snoring nearby on his cat pillow under the Heintzman piano stool.)

But the secret for me is the physical/psychological space the kitchen provides. I cannot face a close wall. It blocks my thoughts. I need an expanse in which to create. Many other writers too need space. Caribbean author Oonya Kempadoo, who spoke to us at the Grenada retreat (read Allyson’s interview with her), prefers to write outdoors when she can.

From my Toronto kitchen I can reach back across the distant chimney tops, back into the recesses of half-remembered events. And if I manage to transport myself past the entrance of that long curving tunnel shown in one of Allyson’s recent photo posts, I am once again that child gathering impressions of what it was like to live in post-war Northern Queensland. I remember.

Now it’s one o’clock in the afternoon and I’m still in my dressing gown and slippers. I’ve written this today! Here, I can glance at the refrigerator where the group photo of my writing buddies from last year’s retreat is permanently posted. Their faces are sunburned and happy. This wonderful, supportive group smiles their approval and I can imagine myself sharing with them again in the future.

When neighbours and girlfriends drop in for a visit they are quite used to seeing me sewing or quilting at the kitchen table. Now they survey the mess of papers, binders, and photographs and ask, “What’s all this then?”

I answer with a hint of satisfaction and pride, “I’m writing!”

As if it were the most natural thing in the world.

♦     ♦     ♦

More writers in the series “Will Come the Words”:

Michelle Berry, novelist

Christy Ann Conlin, novelist

Stephanie Dickison (series intro), food & lifestyles writer, creative nonfiction author

Gail Gallant, YA novelist

Robert Rotenberg, author of crime thrillers

 

Also on writing:

Interview with author Peter Behrens (The Law of Dreams, The O’Briens), parts I and II

 

Comments

  1. Susan Siddeley says:

    Wonderful post by Coral — imaginative and heartfelt.

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