My grandfather used to tell me stories about this place. He would bring me to the boardwalk and sit at the ancient bench, telling tales about the girl beneath the waves…
Finish this story.
Last night I dreamt that I was a witch who also happened to work in a science lab. We were studying some kind of small ancient tree; I was rocking the white lab coat and oversized glasses while serreptitiously casting spells on the unusual object to figure out why it was so different from other bark-entombed entities. As it turns out, I must not have been a very good witch, because I accidentally cast a spell on it so that anyone who touched it would also turn into a tree. And of course, I touched it. My co-workers found a woman-shaped tree laying mossy-face down in the lab the next morning clutching a notecard in its hand-er-branch with a simple warning scrawled on it: do not touch the tree. One of my co-workers, apparently understanding what had happened, then hid tree-me in a closet when the evil boss came to check on our progress. And that’s when I woke up to the cat yowling for food because I had been so insensitive as to allow his dish to get to the dreaded halfway point. I know, will the horrors never cease? Looks like I’ll be getting a visit from kitty-protective-services soon.
You may be asking yourself what the point was to that odd recitation. I mean, who really cares about a strange dream where I turned myself into a tree? The answer: we all should. The creative process is one that has no rules or regulations, and the body has an innate sense of what we truly need; the process of storytelling has created bonds and built bridges since Homo sapiens first came into existence. Humanity itself was build on story-telling; you can find paintings on cave walls in France that tell tales about hunting, sharing their knowledge with distant ancenstors they could not have ever pictured. Stories were the building blocks of our societies, creating lasting bonds and sharing knowledge to help those that came after them. We told stories to explain the world, to understand why life was the way that it was, to understand ourselves a little better, to share hopes for an unknown future, to bond, to tear apart. We have told our tales over flickering campfires, drawn them on cave walls, scrawled them on papyrus, and infinitely more have been coded onto computer screens and sent out into virtual existence. Our venue of storytelling has changed, but the innate nature of it within our souls has not. The telling of tales is in our very DNA, it is the cornerstone of our continued existence.
The brain can do amazing things. It codes, catalogues, interprets, directs, and creates every single moment of our lives. If you stop to truly appreciate the beauty that is the mind, it is deeply moving on a fundamental level, though difficult to fully comprehend. Our brains keep track of our stories; the ones we live, the ones we see or hear, the ones we personally create. Even when we are too tired to tell our own stories, it sings us to sleep with one of its own. We live in stories, we always have. Even when we are not conscious enough to fully appreciate them (or notice that it is perhaps a bit odd that when you start turning into a tree you decide to scrawl a warning instead of- oh, I don’t know- maybe the counter-spell that will turn you back into a human?). But this right here is the art of a good writer- to make something fantastical seem perfectly plausible in the world that you have created. A witch scientist? Why not.
Many of my dreams are bizarre and disjointed. They make perfect sense when I am enmeshed in them, but once I regain the world of the conscious, I begin to realize the flaws. And yet, there is still usually a kernel of something special left behind. Some of my best ideas have come from my unconscious self (and these are just the ones I remember the next morning). They send my into a tizzy of creative efforts, my mind lingers on them as I get ready for my day, scrawling a few quick notes before I completely forget about the magic I had been immersed in. Some of these stories stick with me for days, weeks, even years. Others are as fleeting as the gentle flitting of a bird’s wing.
They say that a person is most creative when they first wake up; right in that moment when you have your rational mind in control, but there is still a dusting of that unconscious magic about you. I don’t know if this true, I may try to find out this week if I can get myself up early enough. But it wouldn’t surprise me. The dream world can be a curious place; but it can bring out the best in any creator, no matter your medium. Your unconscious mind will make connections that the wakeful version of yourself might miss. It’s like a dear friend on the other side of the veil whispering secrets and answers to you. If you slow down long enough to listen, you just might find something worthwhile. And just for the record- yes, I may have to see what kind of trouble this witchy-scientist can get herself into. And how on earth will she ever get out of that tree?
I’ve stared in envious jealousy when my favorite authors have posted pictures of their offices, these beautiful and spacious writing areas that are conducive to their own form of brilliance, usually complete with their very own wood-burning fireplace. And then I look at mine and wonder if it will ever be anything more than what it is. My writing space is my sanctuary, it is the place where I find my genuine self. My seat is worn, my desk is typically messy, and my book shelf has seen better days. But it is mine. It is the home of my favorite creations, the worlds that I bring to life on the page.
There is nothing more important to the creative process than finding a space that will nurture it. I spent many years (okay- virtually all of my life) without one, I worked wherever I happened to have space- usually on my bed with my back propped up against the wall- and full disclosure, I am actually doing that right now because there is a slight possibility that my desk is covered in pears that I got from work, and I’m too lazy tonight to find a reasonable place to store them while they ripen. The kitchen is out of the question, they will be eaten before I even get a taste. So, naturally, I am hoarding them on my desk and writing in my bed.
The writing space isn’t necessarily about the physical set-up: you don’t need a large oak desk and a fancy computer to get those creative juices flowing, you don’t need modern art to feel that rush of words slipping from your finger tips. No, the writing space is more about the way you feel when you are in it. It’s about surrounding yourself with what inspires you, the things that make you think, that remind you what you are working for. It could be something as simple as bringing your favorite Iron Man notebook out to the big oak tree at your nearest park- that could be the place where all of your fictional beings are born. Or perhaps you feel that vibe at your local coffee shop with a caramel macchiato. There is no right or wrong answer to the question of the perfect work space. And for that matter, it doesn’t even have to be the same space each time. Just because it is working for you one day, doesn’t mean it will be the ideal spot for you tomorrow. I rove around a lot when I work. During the summer I love sitting out at the picnic table on the back patio, throwing my dog’s favorite toy and listening to the rustling leaves while I type away. Other days I camp out on the couch with a fluffy blanket and a sweatshirt. You have to be in tune with yourself to know where you will be most likely to stay focused and inspired. It is not an easy task.
So today, I’m going to take you on a virtual tour of my own little area- and I will apologize now, the picture is just a little bit older, simply because you are probably not interested in seeing the mountain of pears, and I know I am not interested in cleaning it up. And there might be a coffee mug. And a water bottle. And maybe a bowl of Hershey kisses. But shh, you don’t have to know that. Here it is, my little comfort zone- it’s changed a little bit since this picture was taken, but not enough to make a big deal out of it.
I am going to preface this by saying that I live in small quarters, trust me, there is not a Pinterest trick on saving space that I have not read or tried at least once, and there is not a single organizational tool that I have not bought and (more often than not) promptly sent off to Goodwill. I have learned to be very creative with what I have. So my writing space is nothing lavish or fancy, it is not going to be getting me on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, and I sure wont be featured on HGTV anytime soon. But I love it, and that’s all that matters in the end.
My fiancé and I both have our own little desks in the ‘office’- which also happens to double as our main living space. This usually doesn’t cause a ton of problems, although there are the occasional noise complaints from one to the other- luckily, that is why headphones were invented.
My desk is nothing fancy- it’s one we bought at Ikea a few months ago when we finally made the space for it. I was actually quite proud because I managed to put it together all on my own without any male assistance- and to top it off, they were Ikea directions with no words and very confusing pictures. I was feeling like one hell of an independent woman that night, She-Ra Warrior Princess in the flesh. There was only one board I put on backwards, but I caught it before irreparable harm could be done. That same night it was christened ‘Katie’s desk de independence (no boys required).’ When I bought it I fell in love with the fact that it had a built in whiteboard, although I have since learned that it’s not the best quality and the markers wont erase without special cleaners, so instead I cover it in sticky notes.
As I said, it is a small space. It’s pressed up against a bookshelf on one side, which holds our tv, and on the other is the wall that I like to stick current projects materials to. Above it are some wall shelves that hold a lot of my books- including all of my writing focused ones. It also carries my cherished binders, my ‘story bibles’ if you will- all of my prepping and plotting work that I’ve done for each of my projects (one of which you can see on the desk in the picture). I have sticky notes taped everywhere with my favotire inspirational quotes, a few stickers I got from a Nano donation a year or so ago, and odds and ends I got as gifts or on vacation. It’s an odd assortment of things I have surrounded myself with, but everything on it is no-shame, 100% me. The Chinese fortune sticks on the far left (behind the water bottle as shown), my favorite black elephant decoration is smiling right at me from his perch, there’s a small hour glass that holds a piece of coal taken from the Titanic, my Walking Dead and Disney figurines, there’s an empty flask my sister got me that looks like a Nintendo game, a little gold Buddha and some pictures from important moments in my life (there are a couple more now than there were when this was taken). My prized possession though would be the little orange book with the white tabby on the cover- written by the only person in my family I have ever known to be published.
It’s not a popular book by any means, but I did manage to find a few copies on Amazon and Ebay. It holds a place of prominence, a reminder of what I can do if I only try hard enough. It’s a children’s book called ‘Tuffy’s Travels,’ written by my mother’s favorite aunt, Marie Persson. Annie Ree- that’s what they used to call her. She passed away from cancer before I was born, I never met her. But she inspires me every day. I always keep her book where I can see it as a reminder that it’s not impossible, I can make it if I only work hard and keep trying to improve my craft. Getting published has always felt like such a distance dream that belonged in the realm of ‘someday.’ This book reminds me that ‘someday’ gets a little bit closer every single time I start stringing those words together.
I can only hope that someday I will be able to look back at my humble beginnings- all of those nights spent on my bed or couch with my laptop propped on my knees. My time in this little desk that I made all my own, crammed into a tiny room that we’ve have to refinaggle to fit into. Clicking and clacking away at the dream that has never left my soul from the moment I was able to tell my tall tales as a child.
The writing space is only important as long as it helps you be creative. Some people thrive in clutter, others practically need a ruler to line up their pencils. I am somewhere in between. It’s not always ideal, but it is mine. This is what I have, and I am so proud of it. Although if you have ever taken a peek at the office of James Rollins (one of my all-time favorite authors)- holy cow, I can ony dream of reaching that level someday. Go ahead, peek through his office window like a creeper and see the magic inside- I don’t think he’ll mind, this image came courtesy of his Twitter feed, after all. (twitter.com/jamesrollins/media)- and while you’re at it, if you are looking for a new series to read, give the Sigma series a try, you wont regret it. Until then, the dream will live on.